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

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.

All or nothing

The corn is coming along nicely so far.

The corn is coming along nicely so far.

My husband Chris is an all or nothing kind of guy. He's an artist. A big idea man. And that includes his thinking about our yard. He didn't build the kids a play house, he built a play castle. He hasn't moved that metastasizing pile of building materials, because he's waiting to have a full day to tackle it. He hates mowing unless he can finish the whole place at once. But I digress.

In Chris's world, there's no point growing corn unless you grow a whole batch of it. As in half a dozen 100-foot rows. That would take up pretty much all of our current veggie patch, which I'm not up for. Also, as a big idea man, he tends to move on to the next big idea, leaving the last one for me. I know I'm the one who would end up doing most of the work weeding, watering and pollinating. And with our short growing season, you've got to be pretty on top of it and the weather has to cooperate just right if you're even going to end up with any edible corn. Take up all that space and invest all that energy, in a crop that might happen? So I told him, go till up a new patch and you be in charge of it.

Our not quite enormous, yet giant pumpkin

Our not quite enormous, yet giant pumpkin

Hasn't happened. Mission accomplished.

This year he came home with giant seeds a friend had given him. We have always grown pumpkins, but Chris wants to try the “grand-daddy” pumpkin–Dill's Atlantic Giant. I smiled and nodded and rolled my eyes internally. Scanning the seed packet, I realized maybe I should have been more supportive of the corn–these babies need their hills spaced 15-20 feet apart, and need a soil pH of blah blah fertilizer blah blah. My laissez-faire garden mind tuned out. At least hundred-foot rows of corn might give us something to eat other than bragging rights.

His excitement, as usual, was contagious, and the giant seeds got planted. They've had a late start because of our weird spring (the first flowers are just coming now) so we'll see how giant any pumpkins get. And we'll see how much space they actually take up as they wind their way through the rows of (sigh) corn.

Lest you think me a shameless husband basher, here's the upside to having an artist around the house. Chris built these steps and I'm getting a trellis to match this fall!

Lest you think me a shameless husband basher, here's the upside to having an artist around the house. Chris built these steps and I'm getting a trellis to match this fall!

Cool things to plant from PC

This past weekend marked the official launch of the President's Choice Insider's Report (Lawn & Garden edition). And as we head into the long weekend, you may want to check it out and make a list of all the great new flowers, trees, bushes, herbs, fruits and veggies that will be stocked at a Loblaw-owned store near you.

I had a bit of a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago at the annual President's Choice Lawn & Garden event. This year's plant preview took place in Beamsville where we had the opportunity to tour the greenhouses at the family-run Linwell Gardens and Freeman Herbs.

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

Here are some of the plants and products that I took an interest in for my own garden or that were too cool not to mention:

Sunpatiens
Impatiens no longer have to be confined to those shady areas of your garden. There's a new hybrid in town that does well in full sun.

Tumbler tomatoes
I had a nice chat at Freeman Herbs with Bob Martin from Martin Farms. I met Bob last year at a Stokes Best and President's Choice tasting event. He was excited about their tumbler tomatoes, tomatoes that were bred for hanging baskets–genius! I remember them being quite delicious. It's really neat to see something go from the test garden to the store. Another tomato that made it into this year's product lineup was red candy. It was one of my favourites from last year and I recently took one home after our magazine editor Erin did a veggie presentation. Also worth trying, the Kapelo peppers.

Starburst surprise petunias
I'm not partial to any one colour in the garden, but my favourite colour in everyday life is pink–pale or fuchsia, it doesn't matter. So I fell in love with these gorgeous, two-toned petunias and was lucky enough to take one of the luxuriant hanging baskets home. Last night as I was buying soil, I grabbed a couple more individual plants to go in my front garden along with some pale yellow beauties.

A pink Starburst surprise!

A pink Starburst surprise!

Starbright Mock Orange
We have a second story going up on the bungalow behind us, which has killed our privacy. My fingers are crossed the owners build a fence, but in the meantime, I'm going to build a living fence. Currently we have cedars (not including the ones I planted last year that died) and a mulberry tree (which is pretty, but messy). This mock orange will fill one of the vacant spots beautifully–the Insider's Report says it will grow to be about 10 feet tall–here's hoping!

They don’t look plastic!
Rather than sell their pots in something generic that you'll have to hide in one of your own pretty pots, PC has these fantastic, decorative planters that you can just plunk right in front of your house without shame.

Can you believe this is only $30!

Can you believe this is only $30!

Check out the PC Garden blog, written by City Gardening writer Lorraine Flanigan. It will give you even more ideas on what to plant from President’s Choice.

p.s. Many apologies for the delay between posts! I've been under the weather for the last two weeks. On the mend!

My champion collard greens

Yesterday I started at one end of my backyard and worked my way toward the vegetable patch weeding (the dandelions are taking over!) and clearing along the way. When I got to my vegetable garden, I intended to pull out the collard greens that I had left behind in the fall. But much to my surprise, there were fresh leaves! I sat there for a few moments munching the tender greens marvelling that I was eating something out of my garden so soon.

I know collard greens are cold-tolerant, but to survive an entire winter? I went back to The Cottage Gardener site where my sister and I ordered our seeds this year and last and the name said it all: Champion Collards. Champions indeed!

Strawberry and herb surprises

The unseasonably warm temperatures worked their magic in my garden last week. They made things happen that usually take a little longer. The best surprise was discovering perennials (or biennials) coming up that I thought were annuals. I didn't realize that my parsley, sage (no rosemary) and thyme would come back, but there they were, tiny little fragrant leaves poking through the soil. I was also pleasantly surprised to see my strawberry plant bursting forth.

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