Saskatoon Berries

It’s finally saskatoon season here in Alberta! I usually don’t expect it to be saskatoon season until around the August long weekend but it seemed to be slightly early this year – I have no explanation for this since everything else seems to be two weeks behind this year. I curse Facebook all the time, but had it not been for an update from The Saskatoon Farm, I wouldn’t have known the berries were ready for picking. So I woke up early on Tuesday morning and made my way to the farm for picking. 


Picking berries is something that I love. I remember going out with my Mom and siblings when we were younger and picking wild berries – none of this u-pick business. I liked it as a youngster but soon became a cynical teenager who hated everything, including picking berries. Once I got over that horrible phase, I was an adult who loved picking berries. My husband on the other hand hates picking berries, so I don’t drag him out with me anymore – of course this puts a little damper on my dream of owning my own u-pick, but I’ve suggested that he can just ride his bike around the farm selling water and ice cream. 

The Saskatoon Farm. I love this place. It is a u-pick farm, but they also have a restaurant, a gift shop, a garden centre, a animals running around, and sell vegetables grown right on their property (I always buy a few bunches of beets and a ton of fresh picked garlic). This place can get insanely busy, which is good for them, but not so good for someone like me who loathes crowds. So I try to go as early as I can to avoid people but to also get my picking in before the day gets too hot. The later of the two was a little harder to avoid – I arrived at 9AM when they opened and by 10AM I was dying of heat. I soldiered on and just dealt with it. 


About three years ago I discovered that they also have u-pick sour cherries. So that first year, I picked a bucket and brought them home and made the best cheesecake in the world. I make this cheesecake once a year because A) I am not a huge baker. B) It has like a million calories. C) It has a truck load worth of cream cheese and therefore costs a pretty penny to make. Last year I was really excited to go back and pick two buckets of cherries. Unfortunately they had a crappy season or something because the cherries were dreadful looking – I came home with no cherries. So this year I asked before I went out if the cherries were ready yet. The lady I spoke to said not quite yet but she’d seen other people out there picking them. So I went out and got my bucket of saskatoon berries and was about to leave but decided to stop to check the cherries first. To my excitement they were ready – I ate like 5 of them to make sure. I quickly powered through and picked a bucket, all while dripping with sweat (yes, I’m sure you wanted to hear about my bodily functions – it was like 30 degrees outside already!). I actually wanted to pick another bucket, but I was dehydrated and dying, so I decided to just leave. Plus, by this point it was 11:30AM and the place was insanely busy. I will probably go back next week and pick some more cherries. Sour cherries are definitely for baking or preserving – they are extremely tart. I wouldn’t say they are unpalatable without being covered in sugar – I actually really like eating them raw, but they are nothing like the sweet BC cherries were eat throughout July. 

So what do I do with the saskatoon berries? Well, I eat a bunch of them raw – they have a really delicious nutty flavor. Then I preserve or freeze the bulk of them, which is what I did this morning. Freezing is easy – I don’t bother freezing them on cookie sheets before I put them into freezer bags because I’m lazy, but you can do this if you want. I pull them out during the winter to add to yogurt or baking. And sometimes I make little hand pies using the best pie crust in the entire world (I’ll have this for another post!). But my favorite way to eat saskatoons is just plain old canned. You’ll need to have basic knowledge of the hot water bath canning method, but it is so easy that you can just look it up online or consult a canning book. And my favorite part about canning? Hearing the popping of the lids sealing. Yeah, I’m weird. 

Quick Canned Saskatoon Berries

– 2 litres fresh saskatoon berries
– 1 tbsp lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
– 1 cup white sugar
– 3 cups water

– Prepare berries by removing stems and washing in cold water
– Prepare hot water bath and sterilize jars and lids (I used 250ml jars and was able to get 7 jars in total)
– Prepare syrup by stirring together water, sugar and lemon juice until it boils
– Cold pack berries into jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space
– Ladle in syrup, leaving 1/2 inch head space
– Wipe rims, add lids and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes
– Remove from bath and sit on dishtowel on counter – listen for popping! Check to ensure all lids have sealed after a couple of hours (if they have not, you can put them in the fridge and eat them in the next couple of weeks). Do not disturb the jars for 24 hours. 


The Saskatoon Farm is located an extremely short drive south of Calgary off of Highway 2. This year they introduced a “grazing fee”, which means you can pay $2 to get into the u-pick and just eat to your heart’s content without feeling obligated to pick an entire bucket. They also sell pre-picked buckets if you hate picking berries but want an entire bucket to take home. Or if you’d like to buy your own saskatoon bush to plant at home, they also sell those! And people say Disney is the happiest place on earth – I call BS. 


My Stay-cation Plans

Back last fall, my husband and I decided that we were going to do some renovations inside of our house. We’ve done some small improvements over the last 9 years of living here, like painting, adding electrical to the basement, adding real doors to the master bathroom, switching out light fixtures and doing a ton of work in the yard. But we hadn’t done anything major and it was starting to show – the door leading to the side of the house was in bad shape, all the tile floors were in horrible condition and ugly and we had a non-functioning 1/2 bathroom on the main floor (it was in working order the first 4 years we lived here and then died about 5 years ago and was used as a storage closet since its death up until its recent resurrection). So we spent a few months planning and somehow managed to get my husband’s dear father to fly out from Ontario and help us rip apart the house and put it back together.  So since we spent all our money on that, we felt like maybe we should probably do the responsible thing and not go on a vacation this year. I will admit that it is a little disappointing for me – the last couple of years we’ve been doing a drive down to Washington and Oregon and spending a week in Portland where I can dream about living in a city where people grow vegetables in the hell strip and keep chickens in their front yards. Sigh, oh well. So instead I decided to take 3 weeks off of my job and get some stuff done around the house.

The first few days were spent doing boring adult things, such as cleaning the house, doing laundry and taking my car in for servicing. How exciting. Then we took 4 days to drive through Saskatchewan into Manitoba for a family reunion for my husband’s step family. On our way to Manitoba, we made a detour in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan to eat at a friend’s restaurant called Harvest. The meal was amazing and afterwards we got a night time tour of the Historic Shaunavon Hotel – which we were told may or may not be haunted (unfortunately we did not experience any paranormal activity ourselves). The most exciting part of the tour was just hearing some of the history of the hotel – there was a bootlegging operation there at one time! The rest of the weekend was good as well – we got to experience some real Ukrainian tradition, mostly through food, got lots of family visiting in and had some really nice weather (people kept apologizing for the “crappy” weather (typical Canadians apologizing for things out of their control), but frankly it was nice to have some cool overcast days after the heat we’ve had in Calgary). I can’t say the drive was particularly exciting – my favorite parts were seeing the mustard and flax fields.


Now back home, I have two weeks left of my stay-cation and lots of things to do, especially around the garden. It is a bit of a jungle out in the back yard and I need to deal with it immediately. I haven’t done any weeding for weeks and those hoses strewn all over the yard are going to seriously injure someone. I have a few obstacles that I need to address though:

#1. It is so hot outside that I don’t have any desire to step foot in the yard past 11am.
#2. We have some temporary but horrible neighbors living next door who have decided that instead of taking out their garbage, they would prefer to chuck it out their patio into the back yard and let the magpies have a garbage feast. So that is pleasant. The garbage is truly the tip of the iceberg but the good news is that they will be gone at the end of August so I really only need to deal with their horrible-ness for another month.
#3. I’m leaving my husband for a few days during the long weekend to escape to my sister’s place near Edmonton where we will build bird houses, enjoy the air conditioner in her house and visit Devonian Gardens (yay, finally!).

Putting all of that negativity aside, I have some real ambitions for the next couple of weeks:

– Head out to the Saskatoon Farm for berry picking. The one thing a year that I love the most and my husband hates the most (besides Christmas).
– Finish staining the fence. This has apparently turned into a four year project.
– Drastically trim back the lilac bush in the front. This lilac is a monster that we severely cut back annually but it just grows back the next year even bigger. It currently tries to murder you as you walk up the front steps and likes to annoy pizza delivery people by hiding our house number.
– Paint the wheelbarrow. The poor rusty wheelbarrow.
– Purchase, stain and install privacy lattice to attach to the fence. Back to the awful neighbors that I would like to pretend do not exist. Of course, I’ll still be able to hear them, but the less I see them, the better. I’d also like to plant some alpine clematis to grow up this lattice to provide even more privacy.
– Finishing laying cardboard and cedar mulch on the front beds.
– Top up the cedar mulch in the back garden (obviously I’m getting a huge truckload of cedar mulch delivered)
– Clean & organize the shed. You currently can’t see the floor.
– Clean & organize the bottom of the greenhouse and possibly plant a few things in there for the fall garden.
– Squirrel proof my bird feeder pole and install the bird feeders. The pole is up, but no feeders yet.
– Install a few decor items (I have a rain chain that I got for Christmas last year and some other things waiting to go up).
– Paint the front door.
– Plant two new trees in the back yard. I’m thinking another dwarf sour cherry and a columnar crab apple. This one is dependent on my wallet.
– Repair the rain barrel. It decided to crack during one of the huge rain storms in June and I haven’t bother to fix it yet.
– Work on finishing up some final touches on the indoor renovations I mentioned earlier. We have some painting to do, installing the light fixture, mirror and hardware, and putting up the baseboards and other moldings – you know, easy stuff (not).

Of course in my imaginary world I get all of these things done and more. But reality is usually a different story – what with the Netflix and the afternoon naps and all. Since I love to make to-do lists and pretend that we have all the time and money in the world, here are some of the “more” things I imagine I would get done:

– Build a “catio”. I really hate the term catio. Thank you, Jackson Galaxy. Anyway, we live on a busy street and therefore I keep my cats locked in the house at all times and they secretly (or not so secretly) resent me for it. So I’d love to build a little fenced in area where they can hang out in. Ideally, it would be attached to the basement window so they can go in and out as they please.
– Rip out the remainder of the sod in the front yard and install some more raised beds for vegetable growing. Yes, I want to be one of those weirdos growing kale and squash in my front yard.
– Build a new front porch and front walkway.
– Build a privacy pergola in the back yard on the deck.
– Put together a little sitting area at the side/front of the house – a little gazebo or something would be amazing.
– Build a raised bed cold frame (I have a spare polycarbonate sheet left over from building the greenhouse that I kept for this specific reason).
– Build and install a window box planter for my kitchen window.

Everything on my “more” list are actually things we will probably eventually do – but we’re talking 5 year plan here. Do you ever take a stay-cation to get things done around the house? What kind of big or small projects are on your radar for this summer? Wish me luck on my crazy list of things I think I’ll be able to accomplish – I’ll be preparing a full progress report, or at least snapping some photos as little things get finished and posting them on my instagram account.

The Garden Mid-July

I love this time of year because it seems like from the end of May up until now it has just been a waiting game. May is the busy month, especially this year as we were doing some renovations inside of the house and I decided I would go away for a week during the long weekend (great idea, Megan). June is usually rainy and miserable and nothing really seems to happen in the garden. Then a week of really hot weather and BOOM, it actually looks like a real garden.

IMG_3290I’m not hiding anything here – weeds & hoses everywhere are kind of my style. 

All of this is really exciting, but I am ultimately a pessimist, so every time I see the garden all I can think about is all the shit that I need to get done. I had a lovely list for the July long weekend. How much of that actually got done? Well, just one thing. It was a big thing though, so I can’t be too hard on myself. Sod Mountain! That ugly, weedy pile of sod has been cleaned up (see previous post here). And I have actual raspberry plants! The raspberries were there before, you just couldn’t tell because they were surrounded by a 4 foot high pile of dirt and weeds.

I actually haven’t been spending a ton of time out in the garden the last couple of weeks aside from watering every day and it does show. Everything needs to be weeded, I have a mess of hoses lying around the yard, and my shed is a dumping ground for everything we don’t feel like dealing with. But the good news is that I have a stay-cation starting this week and I’ll have a ton of time to deal with all things unruly.

Neglect aside, the garden is actually looking quite lovely and I’ve already been taking notes for things I want to do next year – like make little chicken wire domes for my young squash plants, plant some privacy clematis along the fence we share with our neighbors, and build a privacy pergola on the raised part of our deck. I’ve also already picked out some new tomato varieties I want to grow and I haven’t even had a ripe tomato off of this year’s plants. Get ahead of myself much? I also have an ultimate plan for the front garden, which includes raised beds for growing more vegetables. But I think the front yard is going to take a few years to come into fruition – we’re very stubborn people and we don’t like to hire people to do things we could do ourselves, which unfortunately means we have to show some patience.

IMG_3297The first tomatoes on the tumbler tomatoes I started from seed. Things are a couple of weeks late this year – come on tomatoes!

The greenhouse has been a huge success this year and this is very exciting for me. It is the first full year with the greenhouse so everything has been an experiment. I’ve got some pickling cucumbers that are about a day away from being ready to eat, tons of hot peppers (looking forward to burning my face off with these), some eggplants which haven’t done too much yet and a watermelon that has just started making teeny tiny watermelons (SO CUTE).

IMG_3321Cucumber trying to escape out the vent.

On the ornamental side of things, lots of flowers have been showing their faces around these parts and there are a ton of bees as a result. My favorite has been the cat mint (I also love bringing it in the house and watching my cats go berserk) and the blue himalayan poppy (although mine was only blue in the first year it bloomed, now it’s pink/purple – very strange).

IMG_3337Blue himalayan poppy – not blue anymore. 

I have a couple of plans for this week – weed the whole garden, wrangle up some of those hoses and finish putting together my bird feeder pole (see that random 4×4 post in the first picture – yeah, I have some plans for that). I don’t think I’m being too ambitious here, so hopefully a few of these chores can get done and some of my garden guilt can subside.




A couple of weeks ago I noticed quite a few little aphids in my greenhouse. I don’t like to spray my garden with any pesticides, so I decided to go the natural route and purchase some ladybugs from the nursery.


Luckily my younger brother happens to be good friends with the owner of the nursery and had mentioned I would be coming by to pick up some ladybugs. The owner told my brother that the best thing you can do before releasing your ladybugs is to give all of your plants a good watering, leaves and all – the ladybugs are very thirsty coming out of the bag and the water will encourage them to stick around instead of just flying away. The instructions on the bag also said to release the ladybugs in the evening – it is more likely that they will settle in and find a place to snooze and then start eating in the early morning when the sun rises. I’ve also heard that you can spray them with a little sugar water or soda solution to make their wings sticky and prevent them from flying away, although it sounds a little cruel to me.


My ladybugs seemed to be very grateful for the water and immediately stopped for a drink as they came out of the bag – then started crawling around the plants and doing their thing. I watched them for quite awhile just because they were so neat but also to get some photos. I closed the greenhouse door for the night and in the morning there were a ton of ladybugs hanging out on plants and in the soil. They definitely did their duty as all of the aphids disappeared. 


Unfortunately the ladybugs flew off after their work had been completed but I like to think that they are living elsewhere in the garden, feasting on delicious little aphids.



Yesterday was the first strawberry harvest. I wasn’t planning on harvesting the strawberries yesterday morning until I saw a squirrel reach through the chicken wire fence I put up earlier in the season and help itself to a nice bright red berry. After witnessing that, I went outside with my bowl and picked all of the ripe strawberries (throwing away some half-eaten ones the squirrel had already half-dined on). The good news is that the squirrel hasn’t figured out how to get into the raised bed surrounded by the chicken wire fence, but he has figured out how to reach through and pull off ripe strawberries. I suspect I will have a few more harvests as there was tons of unripe berries.


I’ve long since lost all of the tags that went along with my strawberry plants, but there is a mixture of everbearing plants that I bought at the greenhouse and alpine varieties that I started from seed – including mignonette and a white alpine variety. My favorite are the alpine varieties because they remind me of the wild strawberries that I used to pick when I was a youngster.

This year is the best strawberry harvest so far as I moved some of the plants around this past spring to give them all more room to grow. I would recommend giving new plants about a foot of space around one another – planting them too closely prevents airflow and creates shade under the berries, so sometimes they can go moldy in those conditions. In past years, I’ve just had enough strawberries to snack on as I putter about in the garden but I filled a small bowl yesterday, which was enough to put on top of gelato for three people. I bought a container of the bourbon vanilla bean gelato from Fiasco Gelato here in Calgary and it was perfect with the fresh strawberries.

I also decided early on in the season, after being frustrated by the price of annual hanging baskets, that I would fill all of my hanging baskets with strawberry plants this year. I am really happy with this spur of the moment decision because I’m going to get a ton of berries from these plants, not to mention that the hanging baskets cost me about $8 each in plants and soil to put together – yay frugality!