With the holiday season upon us, there is one question causing the good people of the province to lose sleep at night: What to get the horticulturalist in their life?
With that question in mind (and tongue firmly planted in cheek) I’ve compiled a list of ideas with something for every budget that is sure to keep production humming along in the new year.
Gone are the days of calling your favourite commercial horticulture specialist with a worried tone and a blurry picture. Portable digital microscopes allow you to take pictures wherever you might be with a resolution that was previously impossible for most producers.
Products such as Celestron’s Portable LCD Digital Microscope or Dino-Lite’s Edge series run anywhere from $100 to $300 and can zoom up to 220x in some cases. If that’s too much, look no further than the EZ-macro. A macro lens on an elastic band, this $15 bad boy will have you taking textbook-quality pictures on your smartphone in seconds.
And as always, the call to the commercial horticulture specialist is still free!
Dryland production got you down?
Regardless of where you are in the province, this year was not great for rainfall. Horticultural crops are especially dependent on moisture, making irrigation a very expensive (but worthwhile) safety net.
Alberta has no lack of irrigation equipment supply companies that can design and set up a system for you from pump to emitters, and will have you watering in no time (assuming that you have legal access to your water source).
Alternatively, if the horticulturalist in your life is more of a DIY-type person, companies like Dubois Agrinovation sell kits that you can assemble yourself for as much or little area as you like. When considering irrigation, don’t forget to consider your water source and quality. This will have a substantial impact on emitters, filters, pumps, etc. and ultimately mean the difference between a system that works and a very expensive soil holder.
Beneficial insects are all the rage right now and why wouldn’t they be?
Eat bad bugs? Check! Turn bad bugs into mummies? Check! Make your crop cleaner with fewer chemicals and worries? Check, Check!
Beneficial insect companies like BioBest and Koppert can help you find a bug for your problem and your crop. If Canada thistle is a problem, you may want to look at the Canada thistle stem mining weevil (Hadroplontus litura). These stem mining wonders are typically released in the fall and can significantly reduce Canada thistle stands in as little as two to three years. They get shipped in from Montana by West Central Forage and have become a very hot commodity so book soon!
A nice cover crop mix
Who doesn’t love peas! Oats are awesome! How about mixing the two together for a green manure?
Weed issues? Maybe some buckwheat is just what the doctor ordered.
As the International Year of Soils wraps up, cover crops are riding high because of their ability to smother weeds, add precious nutrients to the soil, and increase organic matter. While there is a considerable amount of work that still needs to be done on them in the Alberta context, if you’re looking to dabble, tools like Cover Crops Decision tool can help you pick species according to your soil and end use (such as soil builder, compaction fighter, or potential biofumigant).
Some proven winners are the previously mentioned buckwheat (known for its fast-growing, smothering capability), tillage radish (for its ability to break through all but the toughest of hardpans), and legumes (for their nitrogen-fixing capacity).
Free resource material
For the frugal or those on a tight budget, the web is an incredible resource of information just waiting to be printed and bound, pinned to a Pinterest board, or otherwise exploited.
Websites like Cornell’s small farm program, Farm Hack, and Farm Start are great for the beginning producer. Others such as the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management (IPM), New York State IPM, or Purdue Extension have material that even the most seasoned producer can use.
While not all of this information is relevant to our climate and production cycle, much of the research can be adapted and used, making it irreplaceable.
With any luck, this list has brought both some levity and actual value to your day. It’s been a very challenging year and the holiday season presents a fantastic opportunity to relax, reflect, and plan for the future.