Tinyplots Offers Calgarians Home Growing Know How

Are you new to gardening this year?

Whether you are trying your luck with herbs on your patio or this is your first time planting a vegetable garden in Calgary, you should learn more about Tinyplots.

Jordan Brown has created a wonderful learn-as-you-go online gardening course that walks people through 18 weeks of garden instruction, covering topics such as: how to identify weeds, what it means to live in Zone 3A, and what you need to know about your first harvest. Every week a different topic will be discussed in the interactive online tutorials and instructional videos.

Last week I had the chance to catch up with Jordan to ask him a few more questions about the Tinyplots project.

How did you get into gardening and what initially peaked your interest in having a green thumb?
Whoever remembers their grandparent’s or parent’s garden and the distinct feelings and senses tied to those memories, likely holds some nostalgia associated with food growing in a beautiful space. While I was no stranger to the pains of shelling peas for hours with my grandma, I gladly shelved gardening as something reserved for older generations or people with way too much time on their hands. I was mistaken. Growing food might be the most visceral and self-actualizing activity, profession, hobby, that absolutely anyone can enjoy. In 2007, I put some seeds into a patch of soil in my backyard, without any inclination of the results. What followed was this unbelievable transformation of a stoic seed into something I could eat. It was beautiful and I knew I had to explore the possibilities of produce even more.   

I’m starting my sixth year of gardening, and honestly, every season is a humbling experience where I learn an incredible amount of new tips and ideas; but maybe more importantly, re-conceptualizing the role food plays in our cities.   

You mention on your website that Calgary is not the easiest place in the world to grow things. What is the most important thing that Calgarian gardeners should know? And what is the relevance of Zone 3A?
The seemingly unfavourable climate can be a barrier to a broader understanding that if you can learn the dark arts of gardening in Calgary, you’ll be well adapted to growing food in more favourable climates. The weather here is both a friend and a foe. The greatest friend aspect is that we have winter-kill: our pestilence problems are usually taken care by the long winter. The winter, combined with our altitude and proximity to the mountains, puts us in the Zone 3A category – certain plants and vegetation are better adapted for this region. The zones range from 1 to 12, arctic to desert. To put things in perspective, Phoenix is 9B while Helsinki is 5B, the same as Denver.  

What is the easiest thing to grow for someone new to planting flowers, herbs and veggies? Further to that, what does someone need in their starter kit for their first year of gardening?  
We lay out the essentials of what you can grow here in our beta-course, Intro to YYC Gardening. Leafy greens across the board are the easiest. 

What do you need to get going? 
The willingness to start simple and enjoy the small successes and happy little failures that come with growing food. A bit of space, soil and sun helps too.  

Do you have any tips for Calgarians who live in condos/apartments and are trying to make a garden flourish on a patio or in a small green space?
Take into consideration your patio/balcony’s microclimate;  full or partial sun, windy or relatively little, warm all day, cool at night. The variable weather patterns within your small space will help determine what you should or should not grow.   

Can you tell me anything about your upcoming workshops? 
We’re taking our first steps with Tinyplots by offering an online learning experience that is curated for the Calgary climate – not everyone can or wants to attend a Saturday afternoon presentation where there is an overload of information. The Intro to YYC Gardening course allows you to move at your own pace, week by week, but we round out the summer experience with cool, informal workshops that allow us to meet up, have a laugh, and test the demand for more local experts espousing knowledge and experience.  

I was very curious about the workshop on bees…
We’re teaming up with Eliese Watson from Apiaries and Bees for Communities to offer a micro-workshop on the role of pollinators in the garden (or rooftop). What I can say right now is that there will be some urban honey for you to sample.

Do you have anything special planted in your garden this year?  
Probably the most intriguing group of plants in at the experimental gardens is Las Tres Hermanas, or Three Sisters. 

The Three Sisters is a beauty trifecta of corn, beans and squash that intermingle in a way that every plant thrives. This Mesoamerican classic works because the beans provide nitrogen for the corn and squash, the corn provides some shade and climbing for squash vines. Similarly, the squash vines provide a living mulch layer to block out weeds and retain moisture.?  

Do you have any garden recipes that you’d be willing to share?
Dandelion simple syrup season has arrived! A challenge to you culinary adventurous folk, dandelion simple syrup will provide an aromatic boost to any loving cup that requires it.?I discovered this easy and amazing use for dandelion heads last summer when feeling compelled to put this ubiquitous flower to use in a simple, fun way. ? 

Dandelion Simple Syrup:
1. Source flowers from a place you know has been sprayed. ?
2. Wash the flowers.
3. In a saucepan, cover the dandelion flowers with water. Mix well until all petals are covered.
4. Bring to a boil, cover and let infuse in the fridge overnight.
5. The next day, filter the mixture through a fine sieve and press to extract all the juice from the boiled petals.
6. For each gram or pound of liquid, take a gram or pound of unrefined sugar (or agave, or honey). This is a rough ratio but try to be on point.
7. Mix well and heat slowly until all sugar is dissolved. Filter again and store in a bottle or mason jar. ?Mine stored for months last summer!
8. Kampai! 

To learn more about Tinyplots, visit the website here, or follow on Twitter.

Upcoming workshops include:
YYC Balcony Gardening: June 6
Horseradish – The How-Tos: July 12