{ Archive for the ‘fruit and vegetable gardening’ Category }

Zucchini “pizza” three ways

It seems if I walk away from my garden for five minutes, another zucchini will appear. My plants are very happy this year. There was no room for them in my veggie gardens, so I had to find other spots with ample space. Two I plunked in an ornamental garden beside a peony and a butterfly bush. The other two are in a new garden off my garage that has lots of sun. The soil is terrible (and full of bindweed), but I started amending it this spring with compost (and I have to weed every few days to prevent my plants from being strangled). Needless to say, both locations are producing equal amounts of zucchini.

As I started my attempt to eat through my haul (sharing some of it with friends, family and neighbours, of course), I remembered a photo someone posted to Facebook (or was it Pinterest?) last year. It was a recipe for zucchini pizza. My google search turned up a few recipes that involved the oven, but I wanted to barbecue, so I made these up. Descriptions for each are in the captions below.

The first ones I made as a side dish because I didn't know how they'd turn out. I sliced open the zucchini and hollowed out each half to remove the seeds. Then I spread tomato sauce, and sprinkled chopped peppers and cheese on top. They were delicious!

My husband wondered how they'd taste with taco meat, so that was our next zucchini meal. I fried up ground beef with taco seasoning while we barbecued the zucchini for about 20 minutes (after experimenting, I prefer to lay them on foil to prevent the skins from charring). I brought out the meat and again sprinkled cheddar and peppers on top, letting it cook for another 10 minutes. We ate it with sour cream and salsa. Perfection.

Last night, we barbecued chicken and then added the slices to the barbecuing zucchinis with red onion, peppers and goat cheese. I drizzled balsamic vinegar overtop as they cooked. Another winner!

An edible inventory and an unwelcome beetle

Last year I planted a few things in the small veggie patch that was already in the backyard when we bought the house – garlic, tomatoes, a few herbs. In the fall, my husband built a couple of raised vegetable boxes out of cedar, so after a soil delivery this spring, I was ready to plant a whole lot more. I planted so much I had to go elsewhere to find a spot for everything. It all fit eventually, but it will be interesting to see what thrives where. Because of the cool, wet spring we had, my tomatoes weren’t looking that great until the past couple of weeks. Now they’re finally taking off. I’m out there every night carefully inspecting everything. What’s that they say about a watched pot that never boils?

However it’s a good thing I’ve scrutinized my plants so closely or I wouldn’t have noticed the Colorado potato beetles (kindly ID’d by a social media follower) and their eggs and larvae attacking my tomatillos and potatoes. I’ve been hand-picking them off the leaves and drowning them in a water/dish soap mix. My fingers are crossed they won’t completely ruin my harvest.

Here is a mostly complete list of the edibles I’ve planted this year:

  • Tricolor Carrots Circus Circus (Renee’s Garden)
  • Golden Detroit Beet (Urban Harvest)
  • Radish Raxe – eaten about two weeks ago (William Dam Seeds)
  • Vates Blue Curled Kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Tomatillos (Richter’s Herbs)
  • Zucchini (unknown origins… I bought the plants on sale)
  • Bush beans from my neighbor (grown from seed)
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar Pea from Burpee’s Heirlooms collection
  • Fingerling potatoes (Urban Harvest)
  • A fig tree (from Steven Biggs)
  • A potted strawberry and blueberry plant (President’s Choice)

These radishes marked the beginning of my harvest season. They were delicious in salads. I'll be planting more in August!

My kale has already found its way into salads and the steamer!


I’ve also planted some interesting herbs:

And a bunch of tomatoes that I will list in an upcoming post!

I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Tara’s tomato diaries: The Mighty ‘Mato

This year, when I attended the President’s Choice garden preview, I not only came home with plants to trial in my garden, I also came home with a little box. Inside the box were three grafted tomatoes. Luckily they spoke about this latest innovation for home veggie gardeners at the event, so I knew what to do with them.

Three Mighty 'Matos to try! I can't wait to see how they perform.

How does the whole grafting process work? In a nutshell, a cutting of a tomato plant is attached, or grafted, to hardy rootstock. Eventually the two fuse together into one plant. The resulting plant is pest- and disease-resistant, and more tolerant of temperature swings. You don’t even have to worry about crop rotation! The other bonus? You can double your crop. The plant I saw at the event was about six feet tall!

So, with all this information in mind, I took my Mighty ‘Matos home and planted two of them in my raised beds and one in a new veggie garden I created at the side of my house. I bought the extra-large tomato cages that will support them and I was sure to avoid burying the graft, which would cancel out all the benefits mentioned above. Luckily it was easy to see where the two plants were fused together – which in itself is pretty cool!

These cages looked ridiculous when I put them in the garden (that's my husband standing beside them), but apparently the plants will need them eventually.

I can’t wait to see how these plants turn out. I’ll be sure to report back over the summer.

Gettin’ figgy with it at the RBG

Last year, as my husband and I were exploring our new area on a Sunday drive (we had moved the previous fall), we drove by a non-descript house that had a cardboard sign out front that read: Fig Trees for Sale. “That’s interesting,” I said. “I didn’t think you could grow figs in Ontario.”

Shortly thereafter, I ran into a fellow garden writer, Steven Biggs, who told me he had written a book called Grow Figs Where You Think You Can’t. A copy of the book showed up on my desk one day when I was at the office (thanks, Steven!). I looked through it right away, excited at the prospect of growing such a seemingly exotic edible.

Fast forward to this spring when Steven mentioned he was going to be giving a talk on growing figs at the Royal Botanical Garden. My husband and I registered and showed up, notebooks in hand. It turns out we weren’t the only ones intrigued by fig trees. Steven spoke to a captivated and engaged audience who asked him questions throughout. Steven is very knowledgeable and passionate about his topic, so we really enjoyed ourselves. After the class, we stuck around so I could tell him so, and he gave me one of the fig cuttings he’d brought along to show the class. It’s a Verte, also sold under the name Green Ischia. My husband decided to name it Wilbur.

When we first brought a dormant Wilbur home, it was still pretty cold out, so we kept him in the garage. At that point he looked like a twig (see below).

Here's a pic my husband took of Wilbur. It doesn't look very exciting, but we were tickled that we got to bring a fig tree home.

Then when the weather finally started warming up, he grew a couple of leaves. This past weekend we repotted him in a nice container that we’ll display out front of our house where there’s lots of sun. You see, fig trees also make really nice ornamental plants. Steven says he plants his all around his patio.

Wilbur looking happy in his new pot. We've staked him to a dowl to straighten him out. But don't worry, it doesn't hurt!

If you’re looking to grow a fig tree, there are a couple of places where you can buy them. Steven recommended a nursery in the Niagara area called Grimo Nut Nursery. President’s Choice is also offering a hardy Chicago fig tree at their garden centres this season.

Why thinning?

That time has arrived for my earliest crops: they need thinning. I sigh, as I am wont to do over this task, and mumble once again, “Isn’t there some way to avoid this fiddly, tedious, extra task?”

Come on, admit it, doesn’t it seem like a make-work project to plant a bunch of seeds, and then, after a few weeks, take a bunch of them back out?

Why not just plant them all at the right spacing to begin with and be done with it, right?

Every year I think this, and every year I talk myself back into doing it the long way. Here’s some of the reasons why.

1. Bad germination. Sometimes only some of what you plant will actually sprout. I hate to break it to you, but there’s a lot that can go wrong before those little plants are even born.Could be heavy spring rains washing out or rotting seeds, dry weather frying them, critters stealing them, less than ideal soil temperature, or just plain bad seed. So you over-plant, improving the odds that you will have enough germinate for your needs, and insuring yourself against empty gaps in your rows or squares (along with the resulting urge to re-seed).

2. Plant strength. Not every seed is absolutely, one-hundred-percent identical. Each might respond differently to the exact micro-climate you place it in. By planting thickly, you can choose those plants that seem the strongest to focus your resources on, discarding those that are weaker– and you do this when they are quite young to give the survivors the best chance and the most room.

3. Nature of the beast. No matter how far apart you plant some seeds, you will always need to thin because the “seed” is actually a seed pod, containing a group of seeds. Beets are a good example. In these cases, just resign yourself to the necessity.

My biggest problem with thinning is this horrid feeling that I am killing tiny bits of life. All that potential! How can I toss it at the compost heap? But the truth is, by sacrificing those little guys, you really are improving the production of the rest. I had two big squares of carrots last year. One I thinned early, the other got pushed to the bottom of the list until well into July. You would not believe the difference in the harvest in those two squares (both seeded and germinated evenly): the first gave me pounds of medium to large sized carrots, the second had lots of tiny ones, the kind that are just annoying to try to clean and prepare.

‘Nuf said.

So away I go, with some good sharp scissors, and weigh my little seedlings in the balance. Those found wanting get a snip right at the soil line (yanking them up is more likely to disturb roots on the keepers).

There is the odd time you might find three really strong, healthy looking specimens grouped too close together. I have been known to dig some up and move them to a more suitable spot, but be warned: only try this on plants that don’t mind root disturbance.

Though I haven’t quit my grumbling about one of my least favourite garden chores, I try to keep as my mantra a little piece of wisdom I heard someone say somewhere, sometime: “I would rather grow a few plants really well, than an acre-full badly.”

Previewing President’s Choice plants

When the outdoor garden centre suddenly appears in my local Fortinos parking lot, I know that it’s time to plant (or almost time). Last week I got to preview what these garden centres (Fortinos, Loblaws, etc.) will be selling at an event to launch the garden edition of the President’s Choice Insider’s Report. By the way, the report officially comes out today!

I’ve had some great luck with President’s Choice plants over the years. Favourites include the Gigantico columnar basil, which keeps me well-stocked with pesto through the winter, a strawberry hanging basket that produced strawberries for me all last summer and the dahlinovas, which are stunning in containers.

Here are some of the plants I’m looking forward to trying in my garden this year:

PC Gigantico Begonia, Go-Go Rose Bicolor: These two-toned beauties are destined for my containers!

PC Campanula Purple Get Mee: The purple blooms on this perennial are supposed to come back until the fall. I'm hoping to create a lush carpet of purple in one area of my garden.

PC Heuchera Amber Lady: This is my first heuchera. I love how all the rich colour is in the foliage - no blooms required!

PC Miniature Fountain Grass - Burgundy Bunny: I can't wait to see how this grass turns to a rich burgundy shade later in the season.

PC Pixie Grape Pinot Meunier Hardy Vine: I'm curious to see how many grapes this dwarf grapevine will produce. Not enough to make wine, I'm sure, but hopefully enough to eat!

PC Might 'Mato: What I'm probably most curious about planting is the Mighty 'Mato, a grafted tomato plant that will likely grow to be taller than me. The one at the preview was enormous. I brought home three to try.

PC Shrimp Braid: I probably won't get one this year, but I'd be remiss if I didn't show this intriguing tropical plant. You can display it outdoors over the summer and then bring it inside come winter.

That post-show over-inspiration buzz

So the Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show was, as expected, totally great. And I’m not just saying that because I was on stage.

Super fun once I got over the nerves. Lucky sneakers helped.

My biggest take away was from urban farmer Kevin Kossowan, who (among other things) grows veggies year round in Edmonton. Yes, Edmonton. My hometown, winter wonderland, outdone in nasty winter-ness only by the likes of Winnipeg.

Watch Kevin extend his super awesome cold frame

Kevin’s passion rekindled my commitment to all things edible. I learned how to tweak my cold frame design, and how to plant it better. I learned what a “shoulder season” is (the normally underused planting/harvest time in spring and fall). I find myself once again considering building a root cellar. I find myself itching to pull out the shovels as soon as I’m home. I find myself…

driving home in a snow storm.

And buried under it for the last three days.

I love Alberta.

The digging of the potatoes

After plugging them into the ground in early June, my potatoes have lived without the interference of human attention. Unless you count the sprinkler blanketed over the whole garden. My mom is visiting this week and she keeps asking what she can help with (!!). So far, she’s washed every dish as soon as it was dirtied and made some serious headway with the laundry. To spare her from reading the same Dora the Explorer picture book for the tenth time, I suggested we head outside and dig the last of the veggies. My youngest daughter had to get in on the action, of course. She seems way more excited about these potatoes than the ones I have put on her plate before. Think she’ll start eating them now?

Quick frost cover-up

Remember the Cubs’ pumpkins?

Since helping the boys start the plants this spring, I have been gently nudging Chris to get his boys to take care of them (or take care of them himself), since it’s really their project, and I’ve got plenty of over things I’m already not on top of.

I “suggested” he’d better cover them up one night a couple of weeks ago, as there was a good chance of frost, but stayed out of it beyond pointing him to the burlap and the extra sheets. Guess what that guy did? Instead of using the flat sheets and weighing down the corners like I would have done, he grabbed fitted sheets and snuggled them right over the plants. The elastic was just right to hold the sheet on the plant without rubbing or breaking leaves.

Genius, right?

And look what they’ve got to show for it:

Ta-da! 'Jack of All Trades' has my endorsement for strong growth and quick fruit. Seeds, flesh, and carving: TBA

 

R.I.P., broccoli

I am in mourning.

I have been faithful with my application of Btk on all my brassicas this year, so no cabbage worms for us. I got all that stork’s bill under control (okay, most of it) and put down some good mulch. When I left the veggie garden alone last week to focus on the flower gardens and a few fall projects, the broccoli was just starting a new flush of strong growth, and I was smugly dreaming of a fall reaping of lovely green heads.

When I returned to see if they were ready for cutting, this is what I found.

Those little black spots are flea beetles, for the uninitiated. They got to my fall crop before I did. Ravaged it. Inedible.

This is what I get for feeling smug. ‘Pride cometh before the fall,’ and all that.

Or ‘Fall pride cometh before the flea beetle…’

 

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