Cucumbers, herbs, hail, and more! A garden can look a little different for everyone. Based on your space available, the climate you live in, what you choose to grow, and how much time you have to put into the harvests of your labour. I would like to share my garden experience this year, showcasing my successes and errors, how you can make even the smallest garden space fruitful, and the difficulties of vegetable gardening in Calgary Alberta (Zone 3). 

First of all, the space. I rent a suite in a house I do not own. This can be difficult for gardening sometimes because you may not be able to change the yard layout or appearance in any permanent way. This is my case, as I am unable to build any sort of above ground garden bed or remove large areas of grass. Instead I took on the challenge to garden only in containers. I spent time researching the best plants to grow in containers, and also mapped out the sunlight patterns in my yard. Knowing the light pattern of your space is important to make sure you are giving each plant the right amount of light they require to not only live, but thrive. This is one of the ways to increase the chances of your gardening success. 

Knowing the light patterns in my yard had me dividing my garden into three areas. The first, is an 8×1 foot ground bed garden at the front and south west side of my house, where there is late afternoon sun and shade from the trees in my front yard.  I have had some trial and error with flowers in this bed, but plants that have succeeded the most have been native pollinator friendly plants, and those who enjoy dry, sandy soil. A take away note from this garden is to know the space you are dealing with, and not to fight with it, instead choose plants that thrive with what you already have.

Calendulas blooming

Pollinator Garden Plants

Yarrow, Lavender, Catmint, Borage, Bee Balm, Sea Drift plants, Salvia, Blanket Flowers, Calendulas, Marigolds, Lupins (which became squirrel snacks), potato plants, and Walking Onions. 

In this garden I also planted potted plants that thrived, including, oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, lettuce, and a few filler flowers that turned out to be beautiful.

I did manage to fit many plants in such a small space, and did not have any die mid season (except the lupin), despite the weather challenges. Native and pollinator friendly plants are the answer to all your flower garden troubles! 

Pollinator Garden Additions

One of the best decisions I made for my pollinator garden, was the creation of a pollinator watering hole. A ceramic shallow dish filled with rocks and water, placed in the garden around pollinator friendly plants. It attracted all sorts of bees, wasps, and other bugs.

Pollinator watering hole

Vegetable Gardening in Containers

So, if you can’t build a garden on the ground, where do you build? Up of course! Then came the exciting construction of two reused pallet garden beds. The structures themselves were made from heavy duty pallets (emphasis on heavy) as well as recycled cedar fencing. Boards from three pallets were used to build two gardens.

Beginning of the growing season, freshly made pallet gardens

Vertical growing beds do best with plants that have shallow root systems, and require very frequent watering as the soil is also shallow and dries quickly. Along with the low waste and thriftiness of repurposing, this garden cost a total of $0 to build, as the nails and screws were also repurposed from previous projects and the pallets themselves. Pallets are easy to find through any business receiving large shipments of supplies. Ask around, and you’ll land yourself some perfectly usable free wood, as long as you are willing to put your own efforts into transforming it.

The first vertical bed “The Shade Garden”, placed in a low morning light location, receiving 2 – 4 hours of strong light. Leaned up against the north east side of the house, also sheltered from most rain and strong winds. The heavy pallet never fell over, even through the Calgary summer tornado warnings. 

Plants in the Shade Garden

Arugula, Spinach, Lettuce, Snow Peas, Bush Beans, Celery, Carrots, kale.

You may think carrots might be a weird vegetable to grow in a container garden. But, they actually grow quite well! 

Growing plants in containers help to keep pests away as well as growing hazards such as roots and rocks found in ground garden beds. Even larger plants like cucumbers can do well in a pot. 

Finally the third growing space, “The Sun Garden”, set along a small area receiving 8 hours of sunlight. 

Plants in the Sun Garden

Bush Cucumbers, Pickling Cucumbers, Bush Beans, Mint, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Peppers, Chives, Basil, Dill

Gardening in a Climate with Frequent Hail

This year was an exceptional year for evening hail storms. The North of Calgary received 6 hail storms, 4 all happening within a two week period in June. The first storm devastated my vegetable garden and flooded the yard with a blanket of white quarter sized hail. It left me with hail pelts as I ran outside to protect my seedlings with buckets. Unfortunately, that first storm stripped many of my plants of their small, delicate leaves, some that did not recover. The second storm a few days later had similar results… me running through the yard bare foot, rapidly covering plants and moving planters. Pelted with hail and apparently taking frequent outdoor showers! 

Then, I began to outsmart Calgary’s crazy climate. I started making structures that could help protect my plants. Roping sticks together, placing boards, using wire fencing, and setting up a system wear I could easily roll down “hail blankets” as the storm rolled in. 

One of my hail proof systems, detachable blankets and wire. Pallet garden has a piece of fabric attached to the back for easy set up. From then on out my plants stayed protected from the hail, strong winds, and heavy rain. 

If you are growing in Calgary, always expect the unexpected, and set yourself up to protect your plants before it happens. That way, you don’t end up with hail pelt wounds like me! 

Coming to the end of the best and short growing season, hard labour finally pays off in the form of the freshest food I can get my hands on! Not to mention, all packaging free. Lettuce for two months, 3 rounds of arugula, dozens of cucumbers, fresh herbs! What a wonderful self sustainable feeling. 

Under the hail protector

Growing vegetables has its ups and downs… and maybe some outdoor showers. But taking that first bite of freshly picked cucumber will have you hooked and wanting more! Both hard work and rewarding. All worth it. 

The adventure continues to grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *