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

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…’

 

Carrots and memories

It’s time to dig the carrots, which means Grandpa is on my mind, as he often is. I think it’s time you met him properly.

Yes, he took this picture himself, with a timer. Don't ask me how Mr. Spry got into position in time.

Hi, Grandpa, circa 1985! Great pants, by the way. Meet the Canadian Gardening community circa 2012. I was just telling all of them that I am thinking about you, because I am pulling up carrots. I didn’t thin very well this year, so there’s lots of tiny ones, like the ones you used to give me as you thinned. Do you remember me following you down the rows, waiting patiently as you trimmed the tops with your pocket knife and brushed the soil off? There was nothing like the taste of those little carrots.

I study this picture of you more than you might imagine, hoping to distill some of your knowledge from the little hints it contains: boards laid down to protect the soil and tiny seedlings, the hoses laid out in straight lines. What are the plants I can see? What was the chicken wire for? And what were you painting when you decorated those shoes?

I wish I’d had more time with you, to enjoy you and to learn from you, but here we are. And anyway, I think most of what you’d have wanted to teach me is right in those straight rows, plain as that mischevious smile, and deep down in the taste of those carrots.

I’m pulling carrots today, and though I am annoyed with myself for not thinning earlier and letting the stork’s bill get the upper hand, I still have a smile, because you’re around. And I’ve got a couple of little girls following me, munching away just like I did.

What to do with zucchini-shaped bounty

A friend recently posted on her Facebook: “Anyone who wants zucchini, come and get it. I have lots.”

I wanted to post back–but didn’t–”I’ll come get some of yours if you come get some of mine.”

Let the jokes, jibes, and ring-and-run deposits begin.

But for all the groans about its proliferious growth and size, zucchini is a great vegetable. No, really. I mean it. I’m not being sarcastic at all. It’s got next to no saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium, but chock full of good stuffs like minerals, vitamins, and dietary fibre. It fills you up quick and takes on the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with, so it’s great for stretching out meals.

But, dang it all, you’ve got to eat that stuff almost constantly to keep up with it when you convince yourself every year that six plants will be about right. (Next year, I SWEAR, I will only have two.) I have tried slicing, blanching, and freezing it, as well as drying it to add to soups and such, both with marginal results. (The exception: shredded it holds up well enough for baking.)

It really is best fresh, that’s all there is to it. And it’s best picked early. Tiny baby zucchini 3-5 inches long tossed in a salad are just lovely, prime 8-12 inch squash are ideal for most other uses. If you see one this size, pick it now. Really. If you leave it, thinking to return at supper time to prepare it, it may have gained 5 inches. Do not turn your back.

In the event you end up with some oversized specimens, do not despair. You can peel them, core them, and shred the remaining flesh for quick breads (or the lovely marmalade included below). I also like to split them lengthwise, core them, and lay the halves on a baking sheet to receive fillings of almost any kind (ground beef and mushroom soup is a stupidly easy one). Throw it in the oven for 45 minutes or so, sprinkle with cheese, and dinner is served.

Not that there is a lack of zucchini recipes out there, but here’s a few more ideas I personally endorse (being quite experienced at getting rid of this stuff):

-add it to chilli, minestrone, spaghetti sauce, lasagne, taco filling even, sliced, shredded, or pureed, depending on preference or how sneaky you are trying to be.

-As a side dish, zucchini pairs nicely with carrots and baby onions. Steam and toss with a little butter, dill, and rosemary. Or try tossing slices or wedges with an equal amount of similarly chopped tomatoes and roasting them. Serve sprinkled with mozzarella or Jack cheese.

-If you like sautéed onions with your steak, add some mushrooms and zucchini too. Don’t forget the pepper.

-Grill zucchini strips and red, yellow, and green pepper strips that have been tossed with olive oil, garlic, oregano and thyme. About 15 minutes will do. Serve over Caesar salad.

-Quick breads hide zucchini very well. Recipes for brownies and spice-type cakes abound, but this is my favourite as it is a little less sinful but still feels like a treat. My kids know these just as “chocolate muffins”. Insert mad-genius laughter here.

3/4 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup applesauce

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups flour (I use half white, half whole wheat)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together first 5 ingredients until light and creamy. Add the yogurt and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients except zucchini until just combined, then fold in the zucchini. Fill muffin cups, and bake 25 minutes. Nutella is the perfect topping. But that kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? Makes 20-24 muffins.

 

-Zucchini Marmalade

This is an old recipe from Chris’ grandmother that has stood the test of time. I’m not that crazy about marmalade, but I love this.

Put 5 firmly packed cups peeled, grated zucchini in a heavy pot. Add the juice and grated or finely chopped rind from 2 oranges and 1 lemon, 1 small can of crushed pineapple (drained), and 5 cups white sugar. Bring slowly to a low boil, and cook until thick, stirring often. Pour into hot, sterilized jars, and process for 10 minutes to seal (or just stick them in the fridge). Makes about 5 500mL jars.

Volunteers

Things in my veggie patch are finally starting to green up after a chilly spring here in Alberta, and I when I went to check on things this is what I saw:

Lovely, healthy pea plant, right? Right. Except this is the corn patch. See it there in the front, all two-to-three inches of it?

Apparently, more pea pods than I realized made it through the winter and got dug under enough to sprout. Someone <ahem> must have also put some ripe sunflower heads in the compost, because they’re all over the place too.

Now here’s the thing. These ‘volunteer’ peas are twice the size of the ones I planted on purpose. I haven’t gotten around to planting any sunflowers yet, and the volunteers are already eight inches up. So are they weeds, to be yanked with the dandelions? Or do I let the peas climb the corn, assuming the corn (‘Speedy Sweet’) catches up to all that robust growth? The sunflowers coming up close to the broccoli might offer just enough shade to keep the brassicas happy through the hotter parts of summer. Or will the volunteers suck all the water and nutrients and compromise the things I intended to grow? I’ve tried companion planting before, with good success, but it was always… you know… on purpose.

I’m still thinking about it. And getting Jefferson Airplane in my head every time I do… but the more I think, the more I’m reminded that my intentions and Mother Nature’s should probably be meeting somewhere in the middle.

Previewing plants from President’s Choice

The annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report luncheon is a hot-ticket event for garden writers, because we get to turn our plots into trial gardens. This year, a room at the Toronto Botanical Garden was turned into a greenhouse so we could preview all the hot new plants that we’ll find at garden centres this spring. And let’s face it, most of us will make it to one of Loblaw’s parking lot nurseries at least once. Who doesn’t love buying a chicken, a Joe Fresh T-shirt and a dahlia or two in one shopping trip? Plus, I have to say their plants are always top-notch and affordable. I was able to chat with some of the growers, as well as listen to them tell the whole group of us about their breeding programs and their latest innovations.

Here are just a few of the plants I’m excited about. I’ll be including others in a “Hot plants for 2012″ piece premiering next week! Also premiering next week is the Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report. Keep an eye out for it in stores!

1. Haskap berries
To be honest, I had never heard of these little gems until Signe Langford wrote about them in her 2012 “new edibles to try” piece. Apparently they taste like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. Apparently you need two different varieties to get adequate pollination. I got ‘Indigo Gem’ and ‘Indigo Treat’. Excited to see how they grow–and to taste the berries!

Haskap berries

2. Brunnera Jack Frost
This will be one of my first purchases from the nursery this year. Named “perennial of the year” for 2012, brunneras are deer-resistant and shade-loving. This will be a perfect plant for the back of my lot where the tree canopy casts a giant shadow for most of the day, and where the deer enter the yard if they’re in the neighbourhood!

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

3. Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunias
Last year it was the black petunia. This year, it’s all about pink lemonade. The colour on these blooms is just so unique and pretty, and they’ll contrast nicely with most other hues.

Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunia

4. Lanai Verbena Twister Pink
This pretty little number is so unique with its ring of miniature, two-toned blooms around a hollow centre. These will be fantastic for pots. I have a cone-shaped bamboo wall planter that I bought at the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton. I think one or two are destined to be included in it!

Lanai Verbena Twister Pink

5. PC Vegetables in a Cage
President’s Choice always has great edible plant offerings for both small and large spaces. A couple of years ago it was the upside-down, hanging tomato basket, last year it was the salad bowl garden. This year they’ve introduced vegetables all potted up with a cage around them. All you need to do is add water!

PC Vegetables in a Cage

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next