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

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.

Dining between the charcuterie and the olives

Two nights ago I attended the launch of A Taste of Ontario, a cookbook jointly published by the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Foodland Ontario. The dinner was hosted by Mark McEwan and held at his new 23,000-square-foot grocery store, McEwan (located in The Shops at Don Mills). Between the European-style meat, deli and dessert counters, we sampled some of the delicious recipes conceived by award-winning chef Anthony John Dalupan.

Besides launching this free cookbook (which you can also download as a PDF here), the event was meant to showcase the fresh local produce from Ontario greenhouse growers. And what a difference the lack of distance between your food and your plate can make. I received an amazing basket of vegetables from local greenhouse growers — the taste and quality are amazing!

So in the dead of winter when you're trolling the grocery store for healthy local produce, keep an eye out for greenhouse-grown produce from a local grower.

Also, stay tuned as I will be posting an excerpt from the cookbook on our site!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

A bumper crop of teeny tomatillos

The tomatillos that managed to escape my broiler and blender last year reseeded themselves and produced three plants this spring. There could have been more, but I think I inadvertently pulled some out. Anyhow, they are finally ready and survived this frosty week. They are much smaller than last year, but made a delicious salsa verde last night. Last year I mentioned a recipe I found on CanadianLiving.com, but I also really enjoy the variation I’ve created with a recipe from the old Wish magazine site because it calls for honey. A delicious addition to the tacos I made last night… yum!

Fried pumpkin flowers anyone?

Well, it’s official. My pumpkin crop has failed again! That having been said, I still found a scrumptious, lip-smacking use for the flowers. pumpkin-flower

Last year I discovered a new recipe while I was flipping through Jamie Oliver’s cookbook ‘Jamie at Home.’ In the book, he has a recipe for Fried Zucchini Flowers. I tried it with zucchini flowers, but I also tried the recipe using pumpkin flowers. I was amaze at how distinctively different they tasted. The zucchini flower was mild and buttery, while the pumpkin flower was extremely flavourful almost peppery.

Stuffed with fresh mozzarella cheese, dipped in a white wine batter and then deep fried, they were delicious. So now, every year I grow a few pumpkin plants in hopes of growing a decent sized jack-o-lantern, but I also grow them to harvest the yummy flowers. Since I only harvest the male flowers, I don’t sacrifice my potential pumpkin crop. Only the female flowers develop into pumpkins.

pumpkin-fryingHere’s a photo of the stuffed flowers, battered and frying in vegetable oil. Unfortunately, they didn’t last long enough on the plate to get a photo of the finished dish. Next time!

How do I know when to pick things?

In the spring, when I first started planting my seedlings and sowing seeds, I pictured myself under a deluge fresh produce. I haven’t quite yielded the quantities I would have liked, but it’s still so fun when you can even eat that one fresh tomato. My problem currently is I don’t want to pick things too soon, but I ‘m not sure if a couple of things are ready or not. And I don’t want to waste the precious few specimens that I have!

Here are the veggies I’m unsure about:

onionsMy onions:
This is another tricky one. I have what look like green onions sprouting up, but I remember the tag had a small bulb at the end in the picture. I pulled one out a couple of weeks ago and it just looked like a green onion. I’m not quite sure when to go in and yank out the others.

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hot-pepper
My Hungarian hot peppers:
I’m glad I looked this up on The Cottage Gardener site. My peppers are currently a deep purple, but apparently they will be ripening to red.

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green-pepper


My green peppers:
I have three currently, that are about the size of a Delicious apple. I want to pick them before the squirrels catch on that they’re there, but I’m worried they still might have the potential to grow bigger.

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beets|


My beets: I have four. Some of the beets I’ve purchased at the farmer’s market or at the grocery store have these giant leaves. I’m sure mine won’t grow to be that big, but I’m not sure when to determine if they’re ready yet.
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Sure bets if they would just hurry up!

cucumber1* My tomatoes: Ready any time they decide to ripen!
* My cucumbers: Every time one gets to be the size of a really good dill pickle, the squirrels get it!
* My tomatillos: Still flowering! Maybe I should go out and give them a little shake!
* My eggplant (behind the onion): Still hasn’t flowered.

(p.s. I can’t get WordPress to co-operate, so I had to put those extra characters around the pictures to make them line up!)

Yin and yang bush beans — so pretty, but how do I eat them?

beansOne of my vegetable garden experiments was the Black Calypso Bush Bean from The Cottage Gardener. The seedlings that were not attacked by squirrels yielded a fair amount of seed pods, but I wasn't sure when to pick them. When they first started to develop, I ate them as I would a sugar snap pea and they were delicious, but they were green and did not resemble the black and white seeds I planted. Patiently I waited for them to mature even further and I finally got the beans pictured here. Unfortunately some were left on the vine a little too long. But at this stage, these ones were a little tougher to eat and I didn't know what to do with them.

I went to the Cottage Gardener site (which I should have done in the first place, duh!) and the description recommended using them for baking or soup making. Now I don't quite have enough for a hearty soup, but I may throw them in to one with other beans to see how they taste!

Bountiful beets

3-1611My vegetable harvest from the garden is slowly winding down. I’ve enjoyed radishes, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beets.

This is the first year I tried growing beets, and they did amazingly well. I started them from seeds in early April and they exploded. Unlike my radishes, that were infested by root maggots, nothing attacked the beets.

I had planned on pickling some of them, but they never made it to the Mason jars. Instead, they were barbequed, baked, roasted, and made into delicious salads.

Next year I’ll have to grow more of these scrumptious root vegetables.

Mourning my wee little pumpkin

My excitement over discovering my wee little pumpkin was short lived. A week after I photographed his progress and wrote about him, I noticed the leaves on the vine wilting. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the whole plant had been chewed, cutting of my wee little pumpkin’s lifeline.

Now I don’t know who the culprit was, but I assure you if I ever find out, they’re going to be in BIG trouble! So for a second year in a row, my attempt to grow a pumpkin for Halloween has been foiled. The two other vines in my pumpkin patch have a few flowers on them, but so far I haven’t found any other pumpkins growing.

Although the nature of gardening is always unpredictable, it’s the trail and error that make gardening as a hobby enjoyable. Whether you fail or succeed, there is always a lesson to be learnt. Today’s lesson…..build a protected fortress around next year’s pumpkin patch that is under 24 hour surveillance to prevent hungry critters from enjoy a midnight snack!

Treat your tomatoes to natural fertilizers

I was reading the summer issue of Reader’s Digest’s new mag, Fresh Home, and I came across an article about kitchen-scrap fertilizers for tomatoes. My tomato plants are doing surprisingly well this year, but they’re still shorter than my basil plant. Here’s what the article suggests:

  • Every week, for every foot of height of your tomato plant, add one tablespoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water to add magnesium.
  • When you first plant your tomatoes, add fresh banana peels to the hole. They will act as a slow-release fertilizer, providing potassium and trace elements. I’d heard about doing this for your roses… will have to try next year with my tomatoes!
  • Every week or two, add about six crushed eggshells per quart of water and sprinkle on your plants. The calcium will help the growth of leaf tips and blossom ends and will prevent blossom-end rot.
  • When your tomatoes start to turn red, add a spoonful of sugar to your watering can to help make tomatoes sweeter and juicier.
  • Try planting your tomatoes around a compost bin. As nutrients break down in the surrounding soil, the tomatoes will benefit.

I might try the sugar trick… some of my tomatoes are just on the verge of turning. I’m excited because last year I barely had any and I was eating the few I did get in October and November!

Drop me a line below and tell me if you’ve used any of these tricks or others!

My wee little pumpkin

I spent some time gardening this weekend, and finally got around to weeding my pumpkin patch and low and behold I discovered a wee little pumpkin growing.

Earlier this spring, I bought a package of Mr. Fothergills ‘Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin’ seeds and sowed five seeds indoors. Once they sprouted, I nurtured them lovingly until I was able to transfer them outside. Three of the five plants survived the great outdoors and have continued to thrive. Since we had so much rain this summer, I didn’t really pay much attention to my little pumpkin plants since I didn’t have to worry about watering them.

I’ve had loads of flowers on the vines for the past month, but didn’t think I had any pumpkins bigger than a golf ball until I discovered this little guy who is now the size of a large baseball.pumpkin

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my pumpkin continues to grow over the next two months. I’ve never had much success growing pumpkins. Last year I tried growing a giant pumpkin and was very disappointed with my crop. I ended the season with one green pumpkin about the size of a football. Wish me luck!

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