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

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

Cold frame lessons

It’s done!

The newest addition to my "tool" kit--a cold frame with booster frame. This will be more or less its permanent home.

While I decided to use the plans provided on CanadianGardening.com, we (meaning my wise, more experienced husband) made a few changes based on our needs and site.

We chose to make the lip for fitting the booster frame to the top 1/2 inch instead of 1/4 inch. It just didn’t seem deep enough. We also decided to put a bit of a top on the back to make the back of the frame stronger and to allow a different hinge attachment.

A bit of the hard-won wisdom I’ve gained this week:

Me cutting the posts for the corners.

Chris nailing the top on. He says this will make it stronger and help keep it square.

Choose the widest board you can find for the angled side pieces. I wasn’t thinking about this when I chose fence board (5 1/2 inches). I was limited to a smaller angle for my window than I would have been if I had used the 8 inch boards recommended. This, of course, means I won’t get the same solar gain I could have.

Measure twice, cut once. And think it all the way through: the measurement of the side of the cold frame will not be the same as the side of your window. Window on angle = shorter side measurement. Duh.

Cedar is a very soft wood. It will split on you. It’s a very good idea to use an awl to make your holes for the screws (or pre-drill), and go slowly. Chris actually used a brad nailer to put the frame together with the glue, and then we followed up with the screws.

In preparation for actually using my new toy, I put down a double layer of weed control fabric inside the finished box, just in case any dandelions get any bright ideas. I’m planning to set pots in the frame rather than filling it with growing medium, so with some shredded leaves on hand for extra insulation, I think it’s ready to go!

Makes me want to start more seeds… cukes, more tomatoes, and it’s about time to get the squash going…

From seed to sprout to… cold frame?

Despite my seed buying frenzy of February late, I’m not really a seed starter. Most years I just pop a few squash seeds in pots a few weeks early and direct seed the rest of my veggies. Any other flowers, shrubs or trees I want I’ve either had given to me or I’ve bought from the nursery. I’ve had a few ambitious years where I’ve started the odd thing, but that’s hardly normal.

This year I’m bound and determined to really apply some things I’ve learned about seeds. Last week I realized it was almost the full moon, so I got it together and planted:

- tomatoes: ‘Roma V.F.’ and ‘Beefsteak’ for sauce and eating, ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Earlianna’ for the kids to snack on in the yard. I’m not very experienced with tomatoes in general, so this is a grand experiment.

- peppers: I found ‘Little Blue‘ because a neighbor grew some last year and they looked so fetching in their pots. Also a ‘California Wonder’ for your basic green pepper.

- broccoli: I’ve never grown broccoli from seed (other than for eating as sprouts) but I came home with a packet on my shopping spree, so here goes another experiment. ‘Green Sprouting’ is what this is; I expect I’ll still buy a few ‘Green Goliath’ or ‘Packman’ plants because I know I like them.

Broccoli babies

Izah labeled this "Tiny Tim" with a strip of styrofoam cut from an egg carton.

They’re all up except the peppers; not a peep from them yet.

I plan to start a few plants of different varieties every couple of weeks, so that, for instance, one batch gets scorched or drowned, I’ll have back up.

The flaw in this plan, of course, is my distinct lack of counter space. I would hate to annoy my wonderful dishwashing husband by eating up all his workspace with flats of baby greens, so the other part of my plan is to build the cold frame I’ve been thinking about building for the last three years. (See the to-do lists piling up? It must be spring!)

I hereby promise to tell you all about my cold frame adventures next week. Maybe that will mean it actually gets done.

Last tasks of the season

On my to-do list for the last few weeks has been an entry reading, “dig beets” followed by an entry reading, “make pickles.” Whenever I see this list, I mentally add the carrots and the onions still in the ground. These are the last things I need to do to put the garden to bed (unless you count my pipe dream of getting around to dividing my tiger lilies). But, as I run around taking the girls to dance and choir, getting everybody to the dentist, doing my part on our local public library board, cleaning the house, chasing the barely-walking baby, and all the other louder demands on my time, the trio of vegetables keep getting shuffled to the next day’s list.

Today I finally got rid of both entries and replaced it with “mulch beets and carrots”. I’ve overwintered carrots in the garden before very successfully. You can leave them all winter and they will go to seed the next year (they’re a biennial, related to parsley), or you can dig them up throughout the winter for fresh eating. They need a heavy mulch for this; I’ve used corn stalks and husks as well as leaves, but small straw bales are ideal as they’re easy to get off and replace when you want to harvest your carrots. Be sure to only dig what you want to eat though; they won’t hold.

I’m going to have to get the onions out, I think. We’ve had a couple of hard frosts this week, so I don’t know if they’ll keep for me (I usually let the tops dry and then braid them and hang them in the pantry). Maybe I’ll try them in my new dehydrator.

As for the beets… you don’t want to have any other commitments when you set out to turn the kitchen red. Maybe next week will be a little quieter. Until then, here’s my F.A.V.O.R.I.T.E beet pickle recipe. Maybe you can get some done.

SWEET PICKLED BEETS

2 pounds whole beets (don’t peel, or top, just trim)

water to cover

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

1/2 beet juice (from boiling the beets, strain to remove any silt)

2 cups white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp mixed pickling spices (that’s actually what the label calls them), tied in a cotton bag (or cheesecloth)

Cook the beets until tender, then let cool until they can be handled. Slip the skins off and cut up into chunks, placing the chunks into hot, sterilized jars to within 1 inch of the top.

Place the vinegar, sugar, beet juice and salt in a sauce pan. Add spice bag and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the beets; seal jars. (Here’s tips on processing; at my altitude 10 minutes is good for pints.)

Makes about 4 pints.

Good Grass, Bad Grass

After spending a good deal of the season trying to get rid of grass, I’m planting… grass.

We tore up a bunch of lilacs as part of a big garden overhaul last fall so there’s all kinds of lumpy bits and bare patches in the lawn. Not that it wasn’t pretty lumpy already; I live in fear of one of us spraining an ankle whilst strolling innocently out to the shed, never mind the kids running around. I’ve heard people blame this lumpiness on night crawlers, those big, fat, earthworm look-alikes. I’ve heard people blame it on horses and deer, which I’m apt to believe. I’ve heard people blame it on too much foot traffic in the wet spring. Whatever the reason, I have a very lumpy lawn. If you can even call it a lawn. It’s really what you call “farm grass”– a mix of clover, dandelions, crab, quack, and bluegrass. Everybody around here has it; it’s just one of the facts of life for a rural community. However, I cringe every spring when my lawn turns golden with little yellow mopheads. It wouldn’t bother me that much except I’m upwind from most of town and any negligence on our part will be felt by a lot of neighbors and farmers. And making your grass stronger and healthier is one of the better (and decidedly non-chemical) ways to choke out lawn weeds. So between the lumps, the relocated lilacs, and the dandelions, (and a few bags of free grass seed) I’ve been planning all year to do a little resurfacing and over seeding this fall.

Springtime on the east part of our property, formerly pasture for a couple of lump-making horses, now home to a nice crop of dandelions.

I fully intended it. They say it’s the best time. But a couple of weeks ago, right about when we started getting frost, I heard the BEST best time is several weeks before frost. Maybe the rest of you still have a chance…

So I’m focusing on another grass. I’m going to plant rye. As in, fall rye. My vegetable plot is returning to its clay origins lately and is in need of a good dose of vitamins, and fall rye is supposed to make a great “green manure” and help choke out weeds too. I’ve never tried it before, but what you do is clear the soil of vegetation and sow (“In September”, according to the package… that gives me… tomorrow, right?) the rye shallowly. It grows. Then in spring, you till (or hoe) it under with a little bonemeal, and you have a nicely rejuvinated soil. Rye is an annual grass, so it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) come back to haunt you… Considering my history with grass, I’m taking a major risk. Here goes nothing.

Unexpected surprises in the garden

After another little round of rain I went out to investigate the yard and found a few unexpected things. We grabbed the camera to document them for you.

-A Boreal Chorus frog (or possibly a Western chorus frog) in the driveway. The kids pulled out the field guide and identified him before setting him loose in a puddle. Every time this happens I start thinking again about putting in a pond. Because I’m keeping up so well with the rest of the place, and I don’t have any half finished projects.

-At least five different types of mushrooms growing in the lawn and (what was supposed to be) the fallow section of the vegetable garden. If these ones are edible, I’ve probably got enough to stock the freezer for the year. Where’s a reliable mycologist when you need one?

-The peas going to town, blooming like there’s no tomorrow, which there might not be for them–we’ve already had our first snow! I don’t normally grow peas, so this is an extra special treat for me, and makes me wonder, why don’t I normally grow peas?

-The tops chomped clean off one patch of beets. I assume the deer are coming through again; they seem to change their route a couple of times a year and I haven’t seen much sign of them since late winter. I’d have a picture for you of that travesty except meine Kamera ist kaput. (The final unexpected surprise. Boo.)

The week of berries

This has been the week of the berries. We spent last week in the Slocan Valley in B.C. visiting Chris` family. All the way there and all the way back there were fruit stands full of blueberries, cherries, and the first of the peaches. There's nothing like getting your fruit straight from the grower, except maybe getting it yourself.

Cathie picking Saskatoons, wishing she had a bucket or two!

Cathie picking Saskatoons, wishing she had a bucket or two!

The hill behind Uncle Heinz's house at Winlaw is covered in blackberries. According to him, back in the day there was a Doukhobor farm on the hill, and when they abandoned it their berries just kept on growing. So these aren't really what you'd think of as “wild” berries, small and hard to find. They are ridiculously overgrown and brambly, and competing with the ferns, but they are the biggest, tastiest blackberries I've ever had. And so thick on the bushes! We could stand in one spot and get a pint, even popping the best ones in our mouths as we went. And there are lots more coming in the weeks ahead… too bad I'll be back in Alberta. Uncle Heinz and his neighbors (Hi Lily!) will get them all.

But berry season is going strong here too! We spent the day christening our new kayak at Police Outpost Provincial Park. While hunting a geocache on the island on the lake, we came across Saskatoon berries thick on the bushes. We picked and ate and carried home what we could with makeshift containers. Uncle Jared reduced them down to a gorgeous sauce for our ice cream. What a way to finish the weekend.

Then, back in “work” mode Monday, I toured the yard to see how things had fared in our absence and found the raspberries ready to pick! We moved the whole patch out of the veggie plot to its own spot last fall. We tilled it last spring, dug out the clumps, and cleaned it out again, but we're still thick on thistle and clover. Probably should have left it fallow one more year, but they'll be okay. Raspberries are my personal favorites, and I'm glad to see our transplants have taken hold, though we won't get the gallons we usually do this year. Maybe we'll hit the huckleberry festival at Castle Mountain too… if we're not sick of berries by then. Like that will ever happen.

 Jenna and some of the blackberries

Jenna and some of the blackberries

What’s your favorite berry? How do you eat them?

Purslane taste test

This morning while I was out weeding, I decided I'd set aside some purslane and try it with my lunch before serving it to my unsuspecting husband as I mentioned I would do in yesterday’s post. As I washed my weeds, I chewed a couple of leaves. I detected a hint of that lemony flavour John Kallas talks about in his book Edible Wild Plants. They tasted very similar to my mesclun mix that I planted this spring.

I added the ends of the stems and their leaves, which are supposed to be the sweetest, to a mixed greens salad with cherry tomatoes and my homemade balsamic vinaigrette. With all that company, I didn't really taste the purslane, but felt good knowing I was getting an extra dose of omega-3s.

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