{ Archive for September, 2011 }

It’s getting to be bulb planting time…

I’m not generally the type to pay a lot of attention to advertising, but I do have an admiration for a clever tagline or whimsical campaign. So when I first saw a Dig.Drop.Done magazine spot, it peaked my curiosity. A brightly colored home, with a vaugely Leave-it-to-Beaver mom at center, precariously icing a zillion-layer cake? And it’s for flower bulbs? I love bulbs. What is this?

I went and had a look at the website. It was started by a group of bulb companies to “promote the joy of bulb gardening and ensure its future in North America.” Much of it is aimed at the beginning gardener as opposed to the seasoned vetran, but some of the pop-up tips from the three “ladies” — mascots of bulb planting — were helpful to me though I’ve been planting bulbs for a good ten years.

Check out their “bulb-pedia” for planting and species info on a very respectable range of flowers; and the ladies’ videos if you’re up for a groan or two…

Cabbage, and that sense of accomplishment

With the first of the frost warnings bearing down on me, I’m in the mood for some warm comfort food. Especially if it’s made with — ahem — the first cabbage I have ever grown! Ta da! Not that cabbages are tricky, I’ve just never grown them before, and I must say, they are very satisfying and quite beautiful. I came into the house holding my lovely green prize (with only one slug hole apparent) and presented it to Chris, gushing, “Look what I made!” He was suitably impressed.

Here's a lovely red one that should be ready soon.

But then I actually turned it into supper the next day. There’s something really fulfilling about that. If you’ve never grown food, please try it. (You can sign up for the Seed to Supper newsletter, too.)

So the supper I turned my wonderful Brassica into was cabbage rolls. I’m not classically trained in the art, but I love them, especially if it involves as little work as this recipe does. I’d be sorely tempted to eat the whole pan myself if it weren’t for the… consequences…

LAZY MAN’S CABBAGE ROLLS

Serves 6

1 pound (500 g) ground beef
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cans (10 oz./284 mL each) tomato soup
2 cups (500 mL) water
1 cup (250 mL) long grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 mL) chicken or beef bouillon mix
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) nutmeg
1/2 green cabbage, chopped (or 6 cups (1.5 L)coleslaw mix)
sour cream for serving

Brown beef, onions, and garlic over medium heat about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring to break up meat. (Use oil if needed.) Drain off any excess fat.

Stir in next 8 ingredients (tomato sauce through nutmeg). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Sprinkle half of cabbage over bottom of a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Spoon half of beef mixture over top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining cabbage.

Spread remaining beef mixture over top. Bake, covered, at 350 F (170 C) for 1 1/2 hours or until bubbly and heated through.

Serve with sour cream. Really. I don’t care if you’re on a diet, it’s required.

Give ground cherries lots of room to grow

Lately, I’ve been stepping out onto my patio to collect about 20 to 30 small lanterns off the ground below two large planters. These are my ground cherries and they’re producing wonderfully–but they also like to tease me, I think.

Inevitably, every time I’m finished collecting all the ripe fruit from the ground, I am just stepping inside when I hear another “plop!”

I turn around to see another freshly dropped lantern, go back and pick it up, then head back inside.

Finally, I close the door and I don’t dare look closely behind me for fear one of my two plants is wobbling its branches trying to shake more fruit free.

I decided to grow two ground cherry plants this year after trying the little golden fruits for the first time last year. I ordered Aunt Molly’s Organic Ground Cherry seeds from Veseys and started them indoors in the spring. They grew quickly, but I was worried because the stems were very thin and flimsy. They grew tall quickly, then started to lean over.

Unripe ground cherry in its husk on the plant

However, as soon as I moved them into bigger pots outside, they took off and became really sturdy. Their stems are thicker than a tomato plant’s and they actually didn’t grow much taller, just wider.

I wasn’t sure what size of pot to use, so I experimented. In my early research, I learned that ground cherries can take over a garden if some stray seeds make it through to the next year, so I wanted to grow in pots to avoid having to rip out plants in the future. Plus, growing in pots on my deck meant that I’d be able to see all the lanterns easily and they wouldn’t be sitting on wet soil or grass before being collected.

Ripe ground cherries in their husks

My large planter is a 20-inch round pot (and about 18 inches deep). Its plant grew to have a span of over 50 inches.

My smaller pot was about half as big and the plant grew accordingly. Even its fruit was slightly smaller.

Next year I’ll definitely grow in the larger sized pots, although I’m almost not even sure I need two plants –my large ground cherry plant has produced hundreds of fruits.

Time to make some ground cherry pie, I think!

Ripe ground cherries ready to eat

What shall I do with the aphids?

I am really, really lucky when it comes to mean bugs. Knock wood. I’ve declared war on cabbage worms, and had flea beetles move in a couple of times, but that’s about it.

This spring however I had a bunch of aphids show up on my lovage plant and nearly destroy it. Having never faced in infestation like this, my guard was down and I didn’t really notice a problem until the seed heads popped up and the whole plant started yellowing. It was pretty bad, so I decided to cut the whole plant back and burn the tops. This seems to have done the trick.

But while doing dishes, I look out on my lovely mountain ash (which is doing very nicely, thanks for asking). I had noticed when we got back from our trip that one branch seemed to have died back–shriveled leaves and all. I didn’t think much of it until this week, when another branch near it started doing the same thing. Having been focused on catching up the veggie patch, the front garden had been neglected and sure enough, when I went to investigate, I found aphids cozied up all over, with ants coddling them right along. Luckily, a few diligent ladybugs had already showed up to do their part, but I doubt they can take care of the lot all alone.

Go, ladybug, go!

This is why the experty people tell you to do a tour of the whole garden once a week, looking for stuff like this, isn’t it? Maybe I should hire someone…

Now, cutting back my tree like I did the lovage is not an option. I sprayed the tree down with a jet of water–I seem to remember reading that somewhere–but what advice do you all have for my entomological conundrum? I’m going to go ask Google, but I’d like to hear from some of you in the trenches–what really works for you?

Bring your appetite to the fifth annual Picnic at the Brick Works

Want to eat your way through the 12 regions of Ontario without the huge gas bill? Head to the Evergreen Brick Works Sunday, October 2 (from noon to 4) for the Picnic at the Brick Works. Last year’s event featured delicacies from 72 Ontario producers and 72 chefs. You can see all of this year’s participants—producers, chefs, restaurants and beverage suppliers—on the website. And I’ve included some mouthwatering photos from last year below. The price of your ticket ($120 general admission) gives you access to all of them! The proceeds from the event “will ensure farmers and producers are paid fairly for their labour. For Evergreen, proceeds will fund children’s food gardens and cooking workshops. For Slow Food Toronto, the funds support learning gardens, and connect consumers to local, sustainable food producers.”

If you’re in Toronto or the GTA, I have 4 pairs of tickets to give away. To enter, simply leave a comment below. You can tell us what you’re excited to try or simply say: “I’m hungry.” Four responses will be selected at random September 26, 2011.

Contest closes September 26, 2011 at 12pm EST. Open to all residents of Canada, except those in Quebec. Not open to any Transcontinental Media employees, their families, or any other persons with whom they reside.

Good luck!

The Cheese Boutique

Sampling the wares of one of the participants

Frank / Thorpe's Organics

An inspiring trip to Reford Gardens

Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel around Maritime Quebec. My trip was billed as “Glaciers, Flowers and Gourmet Delicacies.” What immediately stood out to me on the itinerary was the Jardin de Métis, also known as Reford Gardens. I’d read a lot about the gardens and couldn’t wait to see them for myself. To get there, we had taken a ferry the night before from Baie-Comeau, where we had spent a day touring around, to Matane. We stayed at Hôtel-Motel Belle-Plage, so I fell asleep and awoke to the gentle waves of the St. Lawrence River. I was disappointed to wake up and discover an overcast and rainy day, however as we neared Reford Gardens, we drove into the sun.

After wandering through the unique, intellectual gardens that make up the International Garden Festival, we met up with Alexander Reford, director of Reford Gardens and great-grandson of the gardens’ founder, Elsie Reford. Alexander has been instrumental in continuing Elsie’s legacy and expanding the gardens in both size and profile. In fact, Alexander won a Canadian Garden Tourism Award for Person of the Year this past March at Canada’s Garden Tourism Conference.

Alexander took my little group of three behind the scenes showing us some future project sites and introducing us to chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry whom we encountered in the kitchen garden.

I took a ton of photos and compiled them into a photo essay, which you will find in our Garden Travel section. I thought I’d share some of the more candid ones here.

Maybe this giant gnome in Matane was lucky and brought the nice weather to Reford Gardens.

This web, part of the Dymaxion Sleep exhibit, suspends visitors over various aromatic herbs. I thought it might be a little stiffer, so I couldn't stop giggling when I fell into it.

Alexander and I at Estevan Lodge Restaurant.

Worms, worms, everywhere

So here’s my story.

Mid-summer, my brother-in-law Jared sent me a rather cryptic message to “watch the mailbox”. What with postal strikes and summer adventures, it was soon mostly forgotten.

At the beginning of August, my friend Teri also sent me a message, inquiring whether I had ever tried worm composting, and would I like to take some equipment off her hands?

I’m a big believer in composting, and have two healthy piles going in my yard, though I’d never gotten into vermicomposting — having little red wiggler worms help the work along — but I told Teri I’d take some stuff off her hands, if only to help her in her downsizing. I could try it out and always pass it on to someone else if I wasn’t into it, right? If nothing else, it was blog fodder…

The next day she showed up on my doorstep with two Worm Factories, one full, one empty, a big bin of coconut fiber (for bedding), and a binder of information on vermiculture and vermicomposting.

Original Worm Factory - 4 Tray

This is the one Teri gave me; click for the latest model.

“You put your food scraps in the top bin, here,” she said lifting the lid and exposing a melange of vegetable bits, newspaper, and itty-bitty red worms. “The worms migrate up and eat it. Then you harvest the bottom bin of compost and rotate it to the top. That’s basically it!” She seemed a little too excited to ditch this stuff and run. Hmmm… what was I getting into?

I was eager to try something new, not so eager at the thought of worms in the kitchen, Teri’s recommended location for the bin. And I knew Chris would not be into that at all. The timing also sucked: we were leaving on our three week camping trip in three days. Apparently they could eat half a pound of scraps a day: could I load them up before I left? Would they survive? Where would they survive? I debated ditching all the worms into my regular bin and re-purposing all that gorgeous coconut fiber elsewhere in the garden (it’s amazing stuff for soil additive, mulch, growing medium…), but felt I owed it to Teri to at least give it a go. Plus, those worms go for 50 to 75 bucks a pound.

So I cleaned up a little corner of the garage where the temperature should remain fairly even through the summer (winter will be a different story) and got the full bin all set up, thinking I’d tackle the empty one on my return.

That weekend, Jenni and Jared came for a visit, and I showed Jenni my newly acquired castoffs (get it?). Sudden inspiration: Jenni could take the empty Factory, and some of my worms for a starter! Yay! But Jenni got this funny look on her face… remember the cryptic mailbox notice? You guessed it. Jared, in one of his characteristic bouts of generosity, had ordered me a Worm Inn, which was, at that very moment, in the dawdling hands of Canada Post.

WORM INN

The Worm Inn. Hanging contraption not included. I've still got to figure that out.

So, in not so much as a week, I’d gone from zero to three vermicomposting bins. How… interesting.

I filled the bin with as much worm food as I dared, covered it up and left the spigot open so it wouldn’t get to slimy, crossed my fingers, and went on holiday.

We were back two days before I remembered to check on the poor little wigglers– but they were alive. Still some food scraps showing, and not moldy either. Hmmm. Maybe I can do this. The Worm Inn has arrived, and I’ve got Teri’s binder (which turns out to be a full-on manual from the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada). Looks like my kids aren’t the only ones in for learning some new things this fall. I’ll keep you posted.

One of my wigglers working on some beet greens.

The pre-autumn slump

I came home from vacation to find more than a bit of a mess in my garden. Three weeks of heat and a temperamental irrigation system meant that things didn’t get watered consistently and all the annuals are dead or flat-lining. I thought I’d gotten the weeds under control, but they were back, seeding their fool heads off. The peas were overripe, the broccoli bolting, the onions flowering. Sigh.

Half of me wants to start a flurry of work and get things ship-shape again (or finally, depending on your perspective), and the other half of me wants (gasp) winter to show up early to hide all my sins, and just start again next spring. (If the “s” word starts falling in the next 48 hours, I guess you can blame it on me.) I’ve spent the week trying to catch back up. Some things have gotten done, but the list is getting longer instead of shorter thanks to the fall chores starting to arrive.

I thought I’d cheer myself up by planting some trees. A neighbor gave us some seedlings he cleaned out of his windbreak: three maples, two ash, and a random crab apple. I got four in the ground, watered and mulched, and then it started raining. While out there, I also realized that four trees at the very back of our property which we were told were baby Manitoba maples when we put them in 6 years ago, aren’t maples at all. They’re ash trees. I’d taken some one’s word and never looked closely again until now.

I feel like an idiot.

And my garden is a mess.

And it’s raining. Okay, that’s actually kind of good, just not what I was hoping for…

Maybe things aren’t that bad. It’s just days like this that make me think I’m a better writer than I am a gardener. At least, I hope I am.

Wow. I’m sure I’ll get out of this funk when fall sets in properly; it’s this in-between that’s getting to me. Anyone want to join me at the greenhouse tomorrow to look at the pretties? Maybe I’ll choose some fall bloomers to disguise the travesties in my front yard. That should get me through until it’s dry enough to work again.

And please forgive me for even mentioning the season coming next.