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

Eating my way through a veggie tasting

I tried to post this Friday, but unfortunately our sites were down...

Today I had the pleasure of getting out of the office with Canadian Gardening magazine editor Erin McLaughlin and heading to St. Catharines for an event put on by Stokes Best and President's Choice (parents of my zucchini plant). The event was held at Stokes` Trial Farm where they scrupulously test all the different varieties that you may–or may not–see in stores in the next couple of years. Our important task was to provide our feedback on some of the vegetables they were testing for market under the Gigantico brand. We mostly ate tomatoes, but we also got to try some peppers, zucchini and cucumbers.

Erin, myself and Peter Cantley, head of Loblaws Lawn & Garden (photo take by Mark Disero of gardenwriters.ca)

Erin, myself and Peter Cantley, head of Loblaws Lawn & Garden (photo take by Mark Disero of gardenwriters.ca)

Now I'm a very picky tomato eater. The mushy, mealy tomatoes you often find in grocery stores and in restaurants are often left at the side of my plate. That's why I love this time of year! Everything is crisp and sweet and most importantly, fresh and not trucked from hundreds of miles away. I'm excited for my own tomatoes, but I might be eating them in November again at the rate they're going.

What I found funny was that some of the tomatoes I absolutely loved got a lower rating from the other garden writers and the ones I wasn't as excited about ranked as favourites for them. For example, Stokes has a new tomato called `Tumbler` that was bred for hanging baskets. The little tomatoes were crisp and sweet and one of my faves for sure. Some of the feedback was that it was a good tomato for a hanging basket. I guess that means if it was on the vine, it wouldn't measure up. Yet I thought it was one of the most delicious! Some of my other favourites included the `Pepolino` and `Golden Honeybunch.`

The one tomato that seemed to get a unanimous thumbs up was the `Red Candy` grape tomato. It was sweet, firm, juicy and perfect for my picky tomato tastebuds.

Besides the amazing produce, what was also a treat was seeing how both flowers and fruits and vegetables are tested before being deemed suitable for our nearest nursery. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, even despite the excessive rains we've had this summer. I was happy that Stokes got a nice day so they could showcase their gorgeous and tasty gardens.

Pooped on by a bird, doused by a zucchini

Will there be some good luck coming my way? Last night as I was out in the garden, minding my own business amid the plethora of weeds, I felt something fall on my back. As I stood up to look behind me, the giant zucchini leaves I had just cut sprayed water all over my capris from their tube-like stems. When I finally got around to peering at my back over my shoulder, I could see a couple of dark, mulberry-tinged splotches on my pristine white T-shirt. “Not again,” I sighed.

The last time I think I used my recliner, which was last summer, I fell asleep amid a pile of Martha Stewarts and Marie Claire Idees. When I awoke, that familiar-looking mulberry stain graced my shirt.

Since my white shirt was most definitely headed for the wash, I thought I might as well continue, so I stayed out outside weeding for another hour or so, wondering if the birds were up in the tree having a good old laugh at my expense.

What's the best way to pick a zucchini?

zucchiniMy President's Choice Gigantico zucchini plant is a monster! Part of me is glad that a few of my plants didn't work out because this thing is taking over! I picked my first two zucchinis this week. However both times, I broke off the tip of the vegetable. Does anyone have any advice on how to pick them so they end up whole?

Please answer in the comments section below. I also posted a question in the Fruit & Vegetable Gardening forum.

By the way, my zucchinis were delicious! I made both into raw `noodles` with my Joyce Chen spiral slicer last night, added some carrots and a sweet vegan ‘Pad Thai’ sauce I had made and ate it all with a piece of barbecued salmon. Yum!

Tip to help tomato flowers turn into tomatoes

I was reading advice in our forums the other day and one of the posts piqued my interest. A reader was having trouble with her tomato flowers dying before they turned into little tomatoes. “Beeman” came to the rescue and recommended vibrating the flower stem or spritzing the open flowers with a small hand sprayer filled with warm water to encourage pollination. Ten days later, “Crazy4Columbine” reported that the spraying worked! I thought I’d pass along this helpful tip and I might see if it works on my zucchini plant. Some of the flowers have been dying before I get a mini zucchini!

A case of veggie garden envy

I was so excited about my veggie garden this year. We carved out a whole new area in the backyard and I was so optimistic about reaping a bountiful harvest. Sadly, I had a real problem with squirrels… they carried away all but one of my eight cucumber plants, all but two of my eggplants and dug up half my seeds. On the bright side, my two plants that I got at the President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event–a zucchini and a sweet pepper–are doing amazing and I have some hot peppers, onions, tomatillos, beets and bush beans that will hopefully yield at least a couple of vegetables.

But then I went to my sister’s place the other night and her balcony garden is doing amazing! She has green tomatoes already and her plants are all big and bushy. My garden is quite stunted by comparison. I’m thinking maybe I need more nutrients in the soil. Needless to say, I was a little envious of her success. But I still hold out hope that my plants, however stunted, will give me a late harvest. Last year I was still picking tomatillos and tomatoes in November! Fingers are crossed.

Looking forward to picking salad from my garden

Ever since I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver last year, I've been inspired to grow more than just a couple of tomato plants and the odd herb. It seems I’m not the only one… every newspaper and magazine has been extolling the virtues of urban vegetable gardening of late. And with the wealth of information out there, picking your dinner from your yard doesn’t seem so unattainable. I now have a new garden all laid out and I can't wait to plant what I hope will be a bumper crop of veggies.

I've got the seedlings that made it through my fungus gnat infestation–hot peppers, fennel and cilantro–as well as some heirloom tomato plants currently growing in my sister's apartment; a couple of promised plants grown from Gina's tomato seeds–carefully saved each year by a friend’s mom (apparently they yield giant, juicy and delicious fruit!); and a few other plants to join my seeds–a zucchini, a green pepper, and a strawberry (though I may save this for a different spot). I’m also growing beets, beans and a few other treats from seed.

Still on my list are tomatillos, since they were so successful in my yard last year. Apparently my parents, who also grew them, have a bunch coming up in their garden already. I had read that they reseed themselves, but I haven't seen any sign in my own garden so far. Either way, I want to be able to make my own salsa verde again.

There are definitely some lessons I've learned since last year's growing season, the most important, I think, revolving around feeding my soil.

I've also consulted Canadian Vegetable Gardening written by Douglas Green. I love Douglas` stress-free approach to gardening and how the book devotes a couple of pages to each vegetable, making it easy to consult and gather the necessary tips. I had a chance to chat with Douglas recently about gardening when I interviewed him for a Homemakers.com story on growing herbs and took away some helpful tips from that conversation, too.

Another resource I've been consulting is the notebook I took to Canada Blooms. I attended a seminar by Ken Brown who, like Douglas, has a very laid-back, resourceful approach to gardening, yet still reaps tremendous rewards all season long.

I noticed someone in our forums recently had posted her three favourite reference books for veggie gardening, so I added my two cents.

What are your favourite veggie gardening resources?

Taking a deep breath and perusing the seed catalogues

I have never started my seeds indoors before. Sure, I've thrown a few in the ground over the years to see what would come up, but I always worried I didn't have enough space or light to sow them inside. I had varied success with my veggies last year, but my sister and I both realized that the long wait for our peppers and tomatoes had a lot to do with planting them too late in the season. This year we're determined to get a head start.

We decided to order seeds together, but plant in our own respective homes. I'm going to sacrifice the windowsill in my home office and the space around it. My sister's apartment is a virtual greenhouse–her lemongrass is a tree!–and her husband built her these awesome shelves for her seed pots. I figure my odds of fresh herbs and veggies increase with both of us planting the same thing. If one of us fails (most likely me), we have backup.

But where to begin? I find seed catalogues so overwhelming–especially when looking at 10 tomatoes with the same description. Cross-eyed and confused, I turned to Anne Marie for some advice in choosing what to plant.

Here are her helpful tips:

• Look for flowers and vegetables listed as award winners. These are some of the best ones to grow.
• Good plants to start from seeds indoors include tomatoes, marigolds, sunflowers, squash, geraniums, lettuce, sweet peas, cosmos, morning glory and basil.
• Sunflowers, squash, lettuce, sweet peas and morning glory are also good to sow directly outside, too.
• Not all plants are worth starting from seeds. Some are better divided or started by cuttings. (Good call, I'll reign in my list!)
• Buy the size of package you can use in one year.
• If packets contain less than 10 seeds then expect to pay premium prices because they have to be collected by hand, the plant is rare, or the plant only produces a small number of seeds.
• Beware of packets that contain 1,000 seeds for a low price such as $2.49.
• After your seed list is assembled a little time searching on the Internet can give you the specific details about how to sow them–when to sow i.e. days before planting them outside, to cover or not to cover (light vs darkness), ideal temperature for germination, days until germination, etc.

Someone recommended a seed company to my sister, so we both compiled a list and our seeds are in the mail! I just have to buy my little seed starting pots and I'm good to go!

Can you pick veggies after a frost?

As you may have read, I had a real problem with my tomatoes this past season…they were so late! I managed to pick (and eat!) a few juicy, delicious beefsteaks and plums, but there were still some pretty green ones hanging out on the vine.

Then we got a sprinkling of snow and a few days of frost here and there. What to do?

According to Anne Marie, some of the slightly cold-tolerant vegetables can be picked after a frost. Apparently some even taste better (parsnips, rutabaga, kale, chard) if they are harvested after the first light frost (or two). Other cold tolerant veggies include carrots, cabbage, turnip, leeks, spinach, some lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Others, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash, do not tolerate a frost and should be picked before the freezing temperatures.

When I was out raking this weekend, I grabbed the last of my tomatillos (which still seemed OK) and a promising looking tomato, which I'm happy to say is turning a happy shade of red on my windowsill.

For the rest, I'm going to try my luck at wrapping them in newspaper as Anne Marie suggested to see if they ripen on their own. Hopefully it's not too late!

My first tomatillos = salsa verde

A week or so ago we had a big storm in the night that basically snapped major branches off my poor tomatoes and my tomatillo plant. I went into emergency gathering mode as I picked the tomatillos off the sorry-looking branch that I could not save.

I had quite a few tomatillos that seemed a fairly good size, but they hadn't quite filled out their pod. The good news is that they were bright green, which according to my research is when they're at their best. Anyhow, I had to use them, so I immediately did a search for salsa verde or green salsa so I could use them up right away. One of my favourite dishes at Mexican restaurants is green enchiladas. Until I planted my tomatillo, I was quite ignorant to the fact that the tangy, flavourful salsa smothering my meal was made from tomatillos.

I found a few recipes online, all of them pretty similar. I used this recipe from CanadianLiving.com and instead of the canned variety, I roasted my tomatillos under the broiler for about five minutes per side, let them cool and then squished them up in the blender. I then mixed the remaining ingredients and the result was absolutely delicious on my beef burritos!

A seed gathering I will go

Last weekend I signed up for a two-hour seminar on collecting and storing seeds at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market. Our teacher was Maria Kasstan, who was there on behalf of Seeds of Diversity Canada, “a charitable organization working to save Canada's endangered horticultural and agricultural heritage.”

What piqued my interest when I saw the class advertised on the website was the idea that I can harvest seeds from my flowers and share them with friends. I've had neighbours walk by commenting on my garden–and some have even had the nerve to ask if they can pick off a dried bud from this or that plant, which I've happily agreed to. But I never really understood how to go about preserving them until next year.

Maria was a fountain of knowledge as she explained the important process of pollination and some of the plants that can lure bees into the yard. She then went on to describe the importance of preserving heritage seeds–and how to do it. That was another reason I had attended–even though my crop of tomatoes just wasn't meant to be this year, I was hoping I could save some seeds for next year.

I learned what I need to do is take a very ripe tomato and let it rot for three to four days. This helps to eliminate that gel that's around a tomato seed–a germination inhibitor. After that, you can pick out the seeds (I think I'll leave that job for my boyfriend), dry them and store them in the refrigerator or freezer until spring. Be sure to use a jar or paper to store, never plastic!

Armed with our new knowledge–and some little envelopes, our morning ended out in the wildflower garden gathering wildflower seeds to entice pollinators to our yards next spring.

Click here for more tips on storing and preserving your seeds.

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