Category Archives: Commentary

An Interview with Anna: Her Inexpensive Geodome Greenhouse

Some time ago I was introduced to Anna from northernhomegarden.com - a fellow gardening enthusiast from central Alberta. She writes a very interesting blog – and has a most interesting geodome greenhouse. If you’ve never seen a geodome greenhouse before – you’ve got to check this out!

GeoDome GreenhousePretty cool, huh? I recently interviewed Anna (via email) about her garden & her greenhouse, so I thought I’d share our conversation with all of you. It went kinda like this:

Dave: First of all, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Anna: We are Jakob and Anna, passionate suburban home gardeners in Alberta, Canada. We grow lots and lots of food in our square foot garden, in the greenhouse, and at our friend’s farm. Truth is we do not even own a single square foot of land, but we do what we can and call it Northern Home Garden.

Dave: What’s the most unique feature of your garden?

Anna: It sure is our Geodome Greenhouse.

Dave: Why did you choose the geodome style for your greenhouse?

When we started to plan to build a greenhouse, our expectations were very high. In an northern garden we are dealing with frost, nasty winds and hail and also loads of snow in the winter. Our days in spring and fall are short of direct sunlight, so we need to catch every sunbeam we can. Plus, we live in town and the greenhouse in our small back yard needed to be somehow catchy. ;) In our research we came across the GeoDome greenhouse:

  • Very unique, lightweight structure
  • Stable in wind and under snow
  • Optimal light absorption
  • Has the most growing ground space
  • A unique hang-out place
  • An eye catcher

The GeoDome greenhouse is just what we were looking for.

Dave: How difficult/expensive was it to build?

The most difficult part was to figure out how to build a Geodome, what kind of joints to use, what frequency is right for the size. We looked at dozens of How-To instructions and even bought an E-Book (with very little value). But all together it helped to build the GeoDome we have and love.

Building a Geodome Greenhouse

For the structure we used untreated spruce lumber, and stained it before assembling. For covering we used greenhouse plastic that was given to us from an commercial greenhouse. So the expenses were not very high, about $200, and it took us about a month to build it. All in all a very good experience, something we would recommend. We do share our experiences ‘How to build a GeoDome greenhouse’ here: http://www.northernhomegarden.com/2013/03/how-to-build-geodome-greenhouse.html

Dave: Do you have any future projects in mind?

Anna: We would really love to own some land to build up a real homestead, with trees, and berries and some animals (dreaming aloud).

Tomatoes in a Geodome Greenhouse

Got a unique or unusual greenhouse or garden? I’d love to hear about it. Go to my contact page and tell me all about it!

 

Greenhouses: More Than Just Functional

Some of the most popular articles that I’ve written on this website have been about my inexpensive greenhouses. From my Giant 24′x48′ A-Frame to my hail-proof PVC hoop-style greenhouse, I’ve explored all kinds of options for how to keep my garden safe from the harsh Alberta climate. And while most of my ideas are functional solutions – I can’t say they are always beautiful solutions. Rough cut lumber covered by a plastic sheet does keep the tomatoes from freezing, but it may not enhance the overall look of your yard. And in many cases, that’s ok. A hoop-frame greenhouse out behind the barn on the farm fits in nicely, but it might look out of place in your beautifully landscaped city yard.

So if you’re looking for a more attractive way to extend your growing season, you may want to consider a Victorian greenhouse. These beautiful glass structures are not only functional, but they also add character to your garden and value to your home. When I was making the landscaping plan for my backyard, this is type of greenhouse that I designed for.

Search through several Grow Lights and other necessities for your greenhouse all at an affordable price!

Ideally, I’d like a fully heated, cedar-frame glass greenhouse – about 12′ x 30′. (My current hoop-frame is 12′ x 20′.) It would be great to start my own annuals out there (instead of in my basement like I currently do). And it would be nice to have my greenhouse as a key feature of my garden, rather than something to be hidden in the back corner.    Of course, I’ve been doing my landscaping in phases, (doing small projects as the budget allows) and so that type of greenhouse is still a few years away – but that’s the goal.

Until then I’ll be happy to keep on growing in my inexpensive hoop-style greenhouse and be just slightly envious of those of you who enjoy your beautiful glass greenhouses.

Are you one of the lucky people to have a Victorian greenhouse? I’d love to see your pictures! Feel free to attach them to your comments below!

 

The Corn Likes the Weather…

I don’t think I have ever experienced a summer in Alberta when, by the 20th of August, we still have not experienced a 30° day. It’s been cool and wet. And frankly, I’m ok with that. 23° is warm enough for me. But I wasn’t sure my garden would agree. I thought for sure with all this cool, wet weather, my plants would stop growing and start rotting. And indeed, when I picked my beans last week, there were lots of pods that were just rotting away on the plant. But in spite of that, I still picked a bumper crop of beans. And my peas have done better this year than they have since I moved here. And the corn! Well, let me just show you the corn…

And it’s only the 20th of August! So needless to say, I’m impressed. And excited. We’re going to be having some major corn roasts this fall!

So what’s been your experience with all this wet, cool weather (if you’re in Alberta)? Has it been a good year?

The Deer Strike Again!

It looks like this will be another saskatoon-less summer. Things were growing so well… Lots of sun, lots of rain – no hail, no untimely frosts… And then, it happened. The deer strike again!

This little fellow decided that, after chewing on a few peas, that he would try saskatoons. And wouldn’t you know it – he liked them! By the time I interrupted his meal, he had already trimmed down the majority of my saskatoon plants. So I guess there’ll be no saskatoons for me this year. But what else can you expect when you live in central alberta? Besides, I can always head over to my brother’s upick saskatoon farm – the Saskaberry Ranch.

Deer – My 2nd Worst Enemy

Gardening in Alberta certainly has it’s challenges. The #1 challenge has got to be the weather. Late & early frosts, May blizzards, hail, wind – it all takes a toll on the garden. But there is another enemy. A cute and cuddly, seemingly harmless enemy. It’s the deer.

This is the first year that I have not (yet) been ravaged by hail – but it is also the worst year I have ever had with deer. Why, just this morning I interrupted this little fellow at my square-foot salad bar…

Deer in the Garden

On the menu today was lettuce, kohlrabi, asparagus, peas, strawberries, and assorted flowers. It seems lettuce was the favorite today.

Deer Evidence

So if the deer are regular customers at your garden, here are a few things you can try…

  • Have a radio loudly on throughout the night.
  • Scatter human hair around your garden – ask your local barber to bag a day’s hair.
  • Hang pieces of strong-smelling soap around the garden.

The problem with all of these and other deer-deterring techniques is that deer are pretty smart and quickly learn your tricks and ignore them. From my experience there are only two real options.

Option #1. Build a fence. If you have the money and don’t mind an eight-foot fence around your garden, this is probably the best deer-proof solution.

Option #2. Live with it. If you live in Alberta, there will always be bad weather… and there will always be deer.

 

New Exciting Things at Alberta Home Gardening

Over the past while, folks have been asking me for a few new features on this site, so I’ve now added two new pages that you can access from the bottom of the right sidebar. These are…

The Site Index

This will list every post on this website, so that it’s easy to find articles you may have missed earlier. Go here to see it.

The Contact Page

Got a question? Need to speak your mind? Just need some human contact? Then visit the ‘Contact Me’ page.

And one other thing…

One of my goals this summer is to visit a lot of u-pick farms. I’ve already tried once, only to be told they were still closed for the season. (How disappointing!) But as the season progresses, I plan to visit many of the u-pick farms in my area. But that’s not all. My plan it to write a series of u-pick farm reviews so that you can have a comprehensive guide to all (or at least many) of the u-picks around Alberta. Unfortunately, I simply won’t be able to visit as many farms as I would like.

Here’s your chance to be a guest blogger!

I’m putting the challenge out to each one of you to visit a u-pick farm, take lots of pictures, and write a review on your experience. When you’re ready to blog, email me (via the new ‘contact me’ page), and I’ll give you instructions on how to get your article posted. So head out to your nearest u-pick, bring along your carmera, and join me in making Alberta’s most comprehensive u-pick guide.

Yup. I’m A Locavore.

Hello. My name is Dave and I’m a locavore. I’ve actually been a locavore for years, but I’ve only just come to realize it. Now in case you aren’t too sure just what a locavore is, read what Wikipedia has to say about it:

A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with the argument that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Local grown food is an environmentally friendly means of obtaining food, since supermarkets that import their food use more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

Through out my life, the majority of my food has come from within 50 miles of where I live. Well, actually, more like 50 feet. Growing up on a farm with cows, pigs, chickens, and a large garden – most of our food was home-grown. So even without realizing it, my family and I were all locavores!

Now I realize that not everyone has the luxury of living in the country, and it may be a little harder for you to live off the fruits of your labours – but I think anyone can (any anyone should) be a locavore. It just makes sense. So here are just a few ideas of how you can be a locavore too.

To a certain extent, you can grow your own food. Perhaps not everything or even a large percentage of your food can be grown at home, but you can do something. Even if you have a small yard, you could plant a small Square Foot Garden and perhaps a fruit tree or two. If you live in an apartment with just a balcony, you can still have a variety of container grown plants like strawberries, herbs, carrots, or a multitude of other things. If you’ve never tried it, I guarantee you that home-grown food always tastes better!

Another way to eat local is to shop at your local Farmer’s Market. Alberta has a fantastic selection of Farmer’s Markets. From big cities to small towns, you can find fresh, locally grown produce all over the province. Not only do you support your local farmers, but you also end up with a superior product.

And one other option that you’ll certainly want to explore is your local u-pick farm. I am a big fan of being able to pick what I eat right off the tree/vine/bush. U-pick’s are a great place to take the family out for a leisurely afternoon to enjoy quality time together as well as to enjoy great tasting, locally-grown food.

So why not become a locavore? It’s easy, it’s tasty, and it’s even good for the environment!

Why It’s So Difficult To Be An Alberta Gardener

A picture is worth a thousand words, so let me just say this:

April 12, 2008

+24° Celsius. (75° F.)

Beautiful warm day - April 12

 

April 21, 2008

-11° Celsius (12° F)

Miserable Cold Day - April 21

 

And that is why it is so hard to be an Alberta Gardener!

17 Hardy Fruits That You Can Grow On The Prairies

When I was a kid growing up in central Alberta, I was pretty sure that all good fruit came out of B.C. True, I we had raspberries and strawberries on the farm, but apples, plums, cherries, grapes and the like where all “exotic” fruit that simply didn’t grow in Alberta. How mistaken I was! Or at least, how things have changed! I never would have thought that I could be growing plums, grapes and kiwis just outside of Red Deer, Alberta. But it’s true. There is a whole world of hardy fruit plants that can survive and even thrive on the northern prairies.

Grape Vines

So if you’re looking to grow some “exotic” fruit of your own, here’s my list of 17 hardy fruits that you can grow on the prairies.

1. Cherries

The University of Saskatchewan has really done great work in making cherries a viable prairie fruit. I now know of at least 10 varieties that are available. (I personally have 7 varieties.)

2. Haskap/Honeyberries

This fantastic fruit is amazing! Consider this… Can withstand -47 degree weather, ready for picking by the end of June, can produce 7 kgs of fruit per bush, and tastes great! Take a look at this article I wrote about haskap earlier.

3. Grapes

Yup, that’s right. Grapes in Alberta. Valient is the most common variety, but there are others as well. I’ve had mine for two years now, so I’ll be looking forward to my first harvest soon.

Building A House With Straw Bales

With the recent week of -40 degree weather, my thoughts have again turned to straw bale houses. I first discovered these creations a few months ago and was immediately impressed. If you’re not familiar with straw bale houses, here’s a quick run down.

The main idea is that the walls are not made of lumber, insulation, and gyprock. Instead there is a wood frame that is filled with straw bales and covered in plaster.

Straw Bale House

Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluearc21/5036084/

Straw Bale House

Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00/304363867/

The main benefit of this type of structure is the amazing insulation that the straw bales provide. My house (where the temperature with the wind chill has reached -47 degrees this week) has R-20 in my walls. Straw bales would provide an insulation value of R-50 to R-60.

Straw Bale House

Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/indigo100966/1856700319/

According to Strawbale.com, the energy savings of a straw bale house is about 75% over a traditional stick frame home. What that means in dollars and cents is this: Last year my heating bill was $778. If I had the same house, but built out of straw bales, my heating cost would have only been $194. That’s pretty impressive.

Straw Bale House

Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/8002454@N06/472853961/

I love the sunken window and door frames, the rounded corners, and the imperfect surface.

If I build any major buildings in the future, I would love to build a straw bale structure. And of course, if I do, you’ll be the first to know!