Month: February 2012

Haskap Berries: A Tasty Choice and Healthy Too

Haskap Berries: A Tasty Choice and Healthy Too

The Chester Garden Club’s first meeting of 2012 got off to a fine start with a presentation by Logie Cassells, managing director of LaHave Forests, who described the cultivation and use of Haskap berries, a relatively new agricultural product in Nova Scotia. The plants were first brought to Canada in 1967, from Japan, which is where the name Haskap comes from. It has been tranlated as “little present at the end of a branch”.  The plant is a member of the honeysuckle family [Lonicera  caerulea ] and, thanks to research by scientists at the University of Sakatchewan, who combined the best features of Haskap cultivars from Japan and Russia, we now have four varieties of the delicious berries growing in our province. 

Logie provided a comprehensive Power Point presentation

Logie noted that the climate of inland Nova Scotia is excellent for growing the berries and that, with amendments of the soil (cow manure and seaweed were mentioned),  the crops have grown substantially in the two years since the first young plants were put in the ground.  He stressed the use of biodynamic techniques in growing healthy plants and indicated that the company is planning to enlarge its acreage to accommodate the increasing demand for its products. The company has already been able to harvest enough fruit to supply a limited quantity to several small restaurants for their use in making chutneys and jellies.

Haskap juice got a very favourable rating from those who tasted a sample

Following his presentation, there was an immediate surge toward the table for an opportunity to sip some of the pure juice or try a bit of the dried fruit.  Everyone remarked on the great flavour, which Logie describes as something of a cross between blueberries and raspberries. Calling it  Nova Scotia’s “ribena”, he reiterated his point that the Haskap berries are very healthy because they have a higher percentage of Vitamin C and anti-oxidants than either of those other fruits.  Members of the Garden Club are looking forward to visiting the LaHave Forests farm in June when the company will be holding an “Open Day”  for those interested in growing and using Haskap berries. Anyone interested in learning more about Haskap berries can visit the website  for information on obtaining plants or products.

February in Chester – selected views

February in Chester – selected views

With only nine days left until the end of February, often considered our coldest month, we’re posting a few images that reflect the changing climate in our area.  This winter has been remarkable for its snow deficit.  The few storms that brought us any amount of snow were followed in short order by milder temperatures and rain that washed away any traces of the white stuff.   

Ornamental crabapple after snowfall
The same tree a few days later
Branches are bare after a brief visit from a flock of Cedar waxwings in early February
And very little fruit left for the robins who showed up the following week
A lonely vigil

The ice on this salt-water cove stretched far out toward the sea for a week or so and several ice fisherman came to try their luck at catching the tiny fish called a smelt. Setting up camp stools around one or more holes they had bored in the ice, they sat patiently for a few hours hoping to pull up enough fish for a good feed at home.

When the tide's not right, the smelt aren't there

Farther out, the ice along the shore cove has begun to break up into large flat blocks. Open water is what the ducks are looking for.

Ice pans pile up along the shore
Black ducks hunting for food

Back up on higher ground, the landscape features evergreens, dried grasses and only the promise of colour to come in the fat buds of rhododendrons. The outlook is bleak but the experienced gardener knows that the time has come for forcing blooms indoors.

The promise of spring to come

 Branches of forsythia need only about ten days of tranquil resting in warm water in order to start opening their blooms when brought inside. As the month progresses, the time lapse between bringing the cuttings indoors and the actual blooming becomes even shorter. Myra has supplemented the forsythia branches in her containers with greenery from other plants to produce a fuller composition.

First hint of spring
Bloom Day North in February

Bloom Day North in February

Un-named heather pushing through the snow

The tradition of collecting posts featuring photos of plants in bloom on the 15th of the month, from different parts of the USA, started five years ago and the Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day project now attracts 126 participants from North America and abroad. The project is hosted by maydreamsgardens, which is where the garden bloggers share their posts on the 15th of each month, and where you can check out the web addresses to follow up on these posts. 

As a newbie blogger back in 2010, Chester Garden Club began to follow the tradition of posting photos on the 15th but, noting that the other bloggers were either professional garden writers or had commercial interests, we have not added our site to the list.  Nevertheless, today we are honouring the Bloom Day spirit by featuring a few Calluna vulgaris and Ericas that are just now beginning to show signs of life in local gardens, even if they are still surrounded by a light cover of snow.

Unidentified Erica and companions
Calluna vulgaris - Fox Hollow
Erica - Springwood pink

Chester Garden Club’s next meeting will be held on February 20th, with guest speaker Logie Cassells, an enthusiastic promoter of the cultivation and varied uses of Haskap berries.

Neighbourly Nature News

Neighbourly Nature News

Most people who spend a fair amount of time in their gardens soon develop an interest in the wider ecological footprint of their territory.  Over time, by observing the wildlife that thrives in their area, gardeners come to a greater understanding of the role these creatures play, and the need to preserve suitable habitat for the birds and many other critters with whom they share the land. 

To date, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has certified more than 650 backyards across Canada as “wildlife friendly,” meaning that they contain the food, water, shelter and space that wildlife needs to call a place home. Now,  the Village of Lawrencetown, a small community in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, has become the first community to earn such certification.  Thanks to the efforts of Diana Mullings Ackroyd, whose own property was certified in November 2009 and who then collected evidence of many other backyard habitats (30 per cent of the village’s residents) that met the CWF’s criteria, Laurencetown has been awarded CWF’s first certification as a Backyard Habitat Community.

The habitat program’s goal is to provide food, water, shelter, and space for wildlife.  Food can be as simple as fruit-bearing shrubs or  vines; flowering plants for pollinators; seed-bearing trees and shrubs; and seed-bearing perennials left through the winter. Shelter can be provided by trees, shrubs, piles of brush or logs, or even rock piles. Water can be as simple as a saucer of water or a bird bath, or as ambitious as a pond.  To read more about the Habitat program, check out the CWF website at

In  other neighbourly news, Niki Jabbour’s extremelyhelpful book  on year-round vegetable gardening is now available in bookstores. Her tips on planning, designing and planting for year-round harvesting are the result of years of experimentation. The colourful illustrations add to the book’s appeal, and make it a must for the bookshelf of anyone interested in harvesting crops of fresh greens in mid-winter.  

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener herself

The book is published by Storey Publishing and the photographs are by Joseph de Sciose.

Next week, another neighbour, Logie Cassells , will be the guest speaker at the Chester Garden Club’s first general meeting of the year when he will make a presentation on Haskap berries, their cultivation and their use. The berries are grown locally and Logie states that  they contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C.  Demand for the tasty berries is growing as they can be turned into juice, jellies and liqueurs. This is a presentation not to be missed. All members are encouraged to come along, for 7 pm at St. Stephen’s Parish Community Centre on Monday, February 20th.

Are Your House Plants Happy?

Are Your House Plants Happy?

In northern latitudes, February is welcomed by gardeners who, despite the frosty temps, see the noticeably longer days as harbingers of Spring.  While still unable to get into their gardens, they console themselves by reviewing seed catalogues  and browsing through some of the many gardening blogs found on-line.  One of our favourite sites is Dave’s Garden Weekly Newsletter, where a recent post contained useful tips on preventing water-logged plants.

On January 30, Jeremy Wayne Lucas warned about the problem of using decorative containers with no drainage for houseplants. He explained that, if the plant roots are waterlogged,  the capillary action is halted and so the plant can’t take up nutrients. When the cells of the leaves and stems become engorged with water, the leaf pores swell shut, and only a minimal amount of transpiration can occur. Also, roots will quickly rot in the stagnant water, often to the point of the plant being beyond recovery.

His advice is useful not only to novice gardeners, who often confuse the signs of wilting that result from over-watering with similar symptoms that occur from lack of moisture, but as a reminder to more experienced gardeners who may have forgotten to check for drainage.  If a plant shows signs of wilting, the natural instinct is to assume it is too dry but a careful gardener will do a double-check before adding more water,  which would further exacerbate the problem. That plant will not be happy.

Another of Dave’s Garden’s interesting posts appeared in  the January 24 issue.  Adina Dosan, writing on the topic “Some plants prefer shorter days”, notes the role of a plant’s photoreceptors in determining the influence that environmental factors such as light have on the organism’s growth and reproduction.  The plant’s circadian rhythm acts like our own “body clock”.  Most plants that prefer longer days bloom during the summer but short-day plants, such as a poinsettia or a Christmas cactus, need more hours of darkness to produce their blooms and coloured bracts. Adina’s post describes her various experiments in getting poinsettias to develop colour as indoor plants. 

An example of my own neglect of a Christmas cactus is shown above. Last year, this plant bloomed profusely but circumstances required it to be re-located for some months this year, and it has not been as happy.

Looking forward to starting seeds indoors should make many gardeners happy. Dave’s Garden has a post on that subject too, in the February 6 blog. It’s by Paul Rodman. Check it out.