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

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

The elusive white asparagus

On a high school trip to France, I spent a few days in Lyon, billeted by a local family. My first night at the dinner table, I was passed a plate of what looked like thick, albino asparagus. I had never seen such a thing! I don’t recall being much of a vegetable eater back then, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I put a couple on my plate. I tentatively tasted a small bite, worried that I’d hate it. But I didn’t. It was delicious, even though it was served cold—and it would be years before I’d get another taste.

Just as we anticipate the green asparagus season here in Ontario, Europeans await the spring window when white asparagus becomes available. My mom and I recently travelled to the south of Holland (to visit Floriade), Brussels and Dusseldorf where white asparagus season was in full swing.

At Floriade, there was a whole exhibit devoted to growing white asparagus (and preparing it)—with samples! My mom and I chatted up the sample lady, who was representing Teboza, a Dutch company that specializes in asparagus cultivation and research. Our little cup of peeled, boiled and buttered white asparagus was so delicious we vowed we’d find a restaurant that served it before our trip was over.

Opportunity knocked at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, where a prix fixe menu offered white asparagus as an appetizer. Sold! I think the waiter thought my mom and I were crazy because we were so excited about it. And we weren’t disappointed. We each got four juicy stalks, covered in fresh herbs and egg salad. I know that sounds a little weird, but it all worked together! It was so incredibly delicious.

I love green asparagus season and I always get my fill of local stalks each spring. White asparagus, however, is like the Polkaroo. Some supermarkets have started to carry it, but it’s still rather elusive. Even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn’t have grade standards for white asparagus. A little Google search turned up a couple of Ontario growers: Mazak Farms in St. Thomas and Janssen Produce & Specialties Inc. in Simcoe. Perhaps a little road trip is in order once the asparagus is ready sometime in May!

Are you able to find white asparagus where you live? And does anyone know why white asparagus is not more popular here in Canada?

White asparagus at Floriade. Apparently the small ones are more tender and considered restaurant-grade.

Success! We finally found white asparagus at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, Belgium.

White asparagus is so popular, they make it in chocolate form, as seen here at a department store in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Residual Income

They say one sure-fire way to really get ahead financially is residual income: get something done that will continue to earn you money even when you have moved on to the next project. Like writing a bestselling novel or Top 40 hit and letting the royalties roll in while you focus on the next masterpiece. Or getting paid every time your movie reruns on TV, or dividends from investments, or a share of the profits from the well you let the oil guys dig in your back yard.

None of which have happened for me. Nor am I getting into network marketing: been there, done that, not going there again, thank you very much. But I did get a pretty sweet payoff this spring from some long forgotten work.

I’d been craving something fresh to eat, like not-from-the-grocery-store’s-cold-storage fresh, like peas or radishes straight out of the ground, but I knew they’d still be a few weeks away, at least. Just as a began to grumble, I remembered I had actually done something about this annual hankering: I planted parsnips last year! So out I went to the sleeping veggie patch with my dearly missed garden fork, moved aside some leaf-filled garbage bags, and dug in. Guess what? There they were!

I steamed some that very night, with just a bit of butter and nutmeg. Oh. My. Everything I’d been hoping for.

We’ve had three meals with parsnips, and there’s enough still in the ground for a couple more. Plus the spinach and lettuce planted in the cold frame one mild February day should almost be big enough to start doing their job in my kitchen.

It almost feels like cheating, getting fresh veggies out of the ground this early, but you better believe I’m doing parsnips again, and leeks this year too. I’m happy to do a little more work this spring. This kind of residual income is almost as good as money in the bank.

Almost.

Why does harvest time coincide with the onset of flu season?

I had a very productive weekend getting the last of the veggies out of the ground. I intended a busy week of canning, freezing, and drying, but only got as far as the canning: pickled the beets Monday and crashed on the couch with the worst flu I remember ever having. I’m coming out of the haze today, only hoping the carrots and turnips are still happy, covered, in the garage. To think I was going to leave the carrots in the garden over the winter, harvesting as needed. That would have been the better choice, had my crystal ball been working.

If some of you are wondering what to do with the end-of-season veggies at your house, I came across the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website, which gives specific guidelines for canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, curing… almost any type of food.

If you are more a book type, the old hippie-written Keeping the Harvest is still my go-to reference. During the growing season it rarely leaves my kitchen counter.

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

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

Reduce, reuse, re-harvest…

Call me frugal, call me resourceful, heck, you can even call me cheap. I’m a recycler and a Value Village maven (we call it V.V. Boutique around here). I’m the gardener who’s using newspaper for weed suppressant and milk jugs for cloches. That old adage, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” lives on in my household.

I know I’m not alone. There are all kinds of gardeners out there learning and using talents to turn what they have into what they want or need.

But this guy here, he deserves a prize.

Pulling onions from his ready-made raised beds.

This is Allen Campbell, a neighbor of mine. He has put his garden into raised beds this year, but he didn’t build the frames. He has been collecting used packing crates from a wind turbine company that operates in our area. They are the perfect size and height for his veggies, and if he wants a section to be higher, they have metal corner brackets that stack. I don’t know that they’ll hold up like treated lumber, but they are working great. And they were free. And he didn’t have to build anything.

But that’s not all, folks. Oh, no.

He has patiently been collecting discarded bed frames from the dump. With this metal, some cheap-like-borscht white rigid plastic, and some welding, he has built a greenhouse. Yup, the L-shaped rails from discarded bunks are now growing tomatoes and cucumbers.

It's hard to show you in a photo, but Allen welded the rails together in such a way that they also act as shelf brackets: he can lay boards on them when the plants are small, remove them to make room as the plants grow.

An 8′ x 8′ building with double doors and set on cinder blocks to allow some air flow from below, Allen says the most expensive part of this project was the nuts and bolts. Of course, he laid out some time and effort. And exercised some patience to acquire all those bed rails. But we gardeners are practiced at patience, aren’t we?

So there you have it, some inspiration for your inner skinflint. Happy penny pinching!

A taste of spring

I love watching the birds come back, and the blooming bulbs defying all logic, and turning the soil for new plantings, but really, at the end of the day, spring usually comes back to my stomach.

Radishes. Parsnips. Asparagus. Peas and lettuce and spinach. There’s something about stepping out your door and finding something to eat; something liberating about being independent of the grocery store for tonight’s meal, something energizing about knowing you are eating food that was growing ten minutes ago, growing because of you. This is a huge part of the joy of summer for me: several glorious weeks of choosing my menu based on what’s in the backyard.

Not that I’m quite there. All we can eat right now is some lettuce and spinach I overwintered last fall, making for some very early and no-care salad. I planted the radishes kind of late, but really, at 20-50 days maturity, we won’t be waiting long. Though the peas aren’t here yet, I already have a smile on my face thinking about eating them right off the vine with the kids after a good weeding session.

What we should be harvesting is asparagus. We had store bought for dinner last night. My asparagus patch is dead. The short version of the story: my pregnant brain thought it was a great idea to dig up and relocate the whole patch in late September 2009. Don’t say a word, you.

I crossed my not-so-green thumbs last season that it would come up, but no dice. I planted new crowns yesterday, digging deep with lots of sheep manure so as not to be responsible for any more death. I’ll have to wait at least until next year to enjoy them, but trust me, your own asparagus is well worth the wait, and once it’s established, is pretty self sufficient. I planted parsnips for the first time too, another be-patient vegetable, that will be wonderful to anticipate this winter.

So though the food hasn’t actually made it to the table, I’m already excited about all the springtime bounty. There’s lovage and sage and lavender, broccoli and kale in the cold frame, onions and garlic and chives, rhubarb waiting to be pie… and just imagine the strawberries…

My asparagus before I destroyed it

Sweet salad from my back porch

Last Friday I went to the annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event at the Toronto Botanical Garden. I look forward to this event every year because it’s a great way to preview all the exciting new plants that will be at my local Loblaws store. Plus you usually get to meet some of the growers who make the magic happen. Another bonus? You get to take home some of the fabulous new flowers, herbs and veggies that are on preview to try in your own garden. Since I’m moving sometime this summer, this year I was looking for things in containers that I can easily take with me.

The first thing that caught my eye was the Simply Salad Bowl. Filled with the most enticing-looking, fluffy salad greens, these bowls are such a handy concept whether you’re in an apartment building or steps from a backyard garden. You just snip what you need and it keeps growing back (they also need plenty of water). Mine is on my back steps and I’ve already made two huge, delicious salads from it! I predict that they’ll be selling out of these pretty quickly. I got the Alfresco Mix, but also available is a Global Gourmet bowl and a City Garden bowl. Bon appetit!

PC Simply Salad Bowl Alfresco Mix, $9

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