Other than the famous Finn, I had never heard of a huckleberry until I moved to southern Alberta. Apparently it’s an appellation given to many small fruits, Solanum melanocerasum (garden huckleberry) being one of the more common (a cousin to tomatoes and potatoes). However, if you hear ‘huckleberry’ around these parts, chances are it’s not the nightshade that’s being referred to, but one of the Vaccinium species which grow wild here.
I had not so much as even tasted a huckleberry when my friend Tina invited me to come picking with her at the Castle Mountain Huckleberry Festival. Yes, an entire festival for huckleberries. I had no idea.
They look a lot like blueberries, but taste more like a saskatoon. (And you need to know what those are too.)
It’s held at the local ski hill, with music, food, the whole deal. They even sell lift tickets so you can pick from the top of the mountain all the way down.
Say hi Tina! The reddish foliage you can see are the huckleberry bushes.
Part of our haul. We baked them up in a fruit crisp, which disappeared too quickly for me to take pictures.
We heard from other more seasoned pickers that the crop was not as plentiful this year as most, but we still had a good time. It’s got me thinking about growing some Solanum melanocerasum to see how they compare, and so I could have them right here without the trip and the hike. But at the same time, isn’t the hunt part of the fun?
This past spring, I purchased a little bag of French fingerling seed potatoes from Urban Harvest at Canada Blooms. I couldn’t wait to get them in the ground. I didn’t plant the whole bag, because I don’t think I realized how much space each plant needs, so I plunked two potatoes in a wooden, rectangular container box and two in one of my raised beds. It didn’t take long for these wee little plants to poke through the soil. I mounded the plants when they got to the appropriate size, as per the package directions, but then the plants grew like crazy and I was never sure if I’d mounded them enough. The package didn’t tell me when my potatoes would be ready, so I Googled when to harvest and found this helpful video by Ken Salvail. Ken says he has always been told to wait a couple of weeks after the plants have started blooming. I waited a little longer because three out of the four plants never bloomed. Then I got impatient and once I dug up one plant, I dug up all the rest.
There were some rather big potatoes–way bigger than what I would call a fingerling–a few fingerling-sized ‘taters and babies that clearly had some more growing left to do. I’m wondering if maybe I should have left them in longer. I ate some of the bigger ones two nights in a row and then had to leave the rest behind to cure when I left on vacation.
I look forward to planting even more potatoes next year. I need more space for my edibles! My biggest tip is to use a fork, which any potato article will recommend. I only had my trusty spade, so that’s what I used, but I did slice a few potatoes in half. Those ones went into a soup broth that I made and froze for future meals.
Here are a couple of pics of my beauts!
Some of the potatoes were attached to the main root. But it was like a treasure hunt sifting through the soil for the rest of them!
My obligatory, proud "styled" shot of my potato harvest dirt and all!
I hate sunscreen. I know I’m not alone. It is a necessary nuisance of the summer, especially with Chris’ history of melanoma, and I know it’s important, but I avoid it when humanly possible. For instance, I try to garden in the earlier morning and late afternoon and evening. I wear longer shorts, and loose fitting long sleeves. I work in the shade.
And I try to wear a hat.
I say try, because I have the hardest time finding good gardening hats. They’re either too tight, don’t have a decent brim, are too heavy for summer, or so loose they blow off in a decent breeze (which is ever present around here).
Monday last was our fifteenth wedding anniversary (yay us!) and so Chris and I went out for the day, had dinner and did some very romantic house paint shopping. I know, we’re party animals. Anyhow, Chris spotted some hats at Winners and called me over to try one on. Nice wide brim, breathable weave… nice colours… I popped it on my head and–miracle of miracles–it fit! I didn’t have to jam it down, and it didn’t shift uselessly every time I turned.
It may seem silly to act so blissful over something as basic as a hat, but I am oh so much more comfortable working outside. I really am. Plus it’s Ralph Lauren for eighteen bucks. Smiles all around.
My friend Jennifer sent me a link this week all about something I’d never seen before: underground greenhouses. Known as a walipini, these dugouts with plastic roofs were first built in the mountain regions of South America to allow people to grow crops almost year round. Jennifer wanted to know my opinion about building one here in Alberta.
First of all, thank you, Jen, for holding my opinion in such high esteem. Second, I really don’t know. The idea intrigues me; it’s almost like a walk-in cold frame, and you know how I love cold frames. Walipinis take it to the next level though, using the natural warmth of the earth to heat the space, not just the sun. While they would require a lot of labour to dig, and a lot of space to accommodate, the materials could be lower in cost than a traditional greenhouse set up. Also, I have many neighbours who have had ‘kit’ type greenhouses blown into Saskatchewan or smashed by hail. Digging into the earth seems like a logical way to avoid our gales.
As long as you could build a roof to withstand those winds, as well as the heavy, wet snow we can get. A really solid roof would be absolutely necessary. Could we do it?
A quick trip around the internet revealed several variations of dug greenhouses, the “earth sheltered” variety being fairly common. Everyone seems to have their own special considerations to the design, but the consensus seems quite positive that it is entirely possible, even here.
Luckily for me, Jennifer has a willing relation with a backhoe, a lot full of lawn she wants to transform, and a husband who’s thinking through the roofing questions.
I get to watch and learn.
I never got around to planting any kale this year. I intended to, but didn’t — I’m blaming the wet spring.
Thinking about my lack of kale today led my mind back to some of the things I’ve learned from Nikki Jabbour and Kevin Kossowan about using more of the year for growing. I realized there was nothing stopping me from planting a new crop other than an “August” state of mind. So I pretended it was March and got out my seeds.
In my stash: 'Winterbor', 'Dwarf Green Curled', and 'Red Winter'.
The ‘Red Winter’ kale indicates 50 days needed for maturity. Fifty days from now is September 25–just beyond our probable first frost date. And considering kale actually likes a little frost, this little idea is gaining traction in my mind. I need to consult Nikki’s book again, but regardless, I’m thinking I’m going to do it. Never know until you try! Plus, there’s always the cold frame.
I was given a big hunk of comfrey a couple of years ago by a friend who is an encyclopedia of medicinal plant knowledge. I never used it for the compresses or tea she recommended (sorry, Connie) and, as it is a rather bulky thing, I was tempted to get rid of it. I’d heard people complain about it spreading too, and wondered if I was better off without it.
That is, until I learned about some of its other uses, and its reputation as a nurse plant:
*Comfrey has an incredibly long tap root, and as such, gets down deep to all the nutrients int he soil that other plants simply can’t reach. It stores all this nutrition in its proliferous leaves. The wise gardener need only “chop and drop” the comfrey a few times a season, spreading the cut stems and leaves around the base of any and all plants as an all-in-one mulch/fertilizer.
*Comfrey draws beneficial bacteria and earthworms to its root.
*Comfrey is great to plant under fruit trees as it does not compete with the trees roots, but competes with other plants that would; it also draws pollinators.
*Cuttings of comfrey are excellent for kickstarting your compost.
*It can also be used for animal fodder.
As far as the issue of spreading, it seems the worst danger comes from cutting the roots, so no tilling for me. On the whole, I have the space and it’s earning its keep, so the comfrey is staying.
It seems if I walk away from my garden for five minutes, another zucchini will appear. My plants are very happy this year. There was no room for them in my veggie gardens, so I had to find other spots with ample space. Two I plunked in an ornamental garden beside a peony and a butterfly bush. The other two are in a new garden off my garage that has lots of sun. The soil is terrible (and full of bindweed), but I started amending it this spring with compost (and I have to weed every few days to prevent my plants from being strangled). Needless to say, both locations are producing equal amounts of zucchini.
As I started my attempt to eat through my haul (sharing some of it with friends, family and neighbours, of course), I remembered a photo someone posted to Facebook (or was it Pinterest?) last year. It was a recipe for zucchini pizza. My google search turned up a few recipes that involved the oven, but I wanted to barbecue, so I made these up. Descriptions for each are in the captions below.
The first ones I made as a side dish because I didn't know how they'd turn out. I sliced open the zucchini and hollowed out each half to remove the seeds. Then I spread tomato sauce, and sprinkled chopped peppers and cheese on top. They were delicious!
My husband wondered how they'd taste with taco meat, so that was our next zucchini meal. I fried up ground beef with taco seasoning while we barbecued the zucchini for about 20 minutes (after experimenting, I prefer to lay them on foil to prevent the skins from charring). I brought out the meat and again sprinkled cheddar and peppers on top, letting it cook for another 10 minutes. We ate it with sour cream and salsa. Perfection.
Last night, we barbecued chicken and then added the slices to the barbecuing zucchinis with red onion, peppers and goat cheese. I drizzled balsamic vinegar overtop as they cooked. Another winner!
Chris and I have been talking about building a large shed, big enough to park our rider mower in. We have been known to wax poetic about all the fabulous things we will do with this building, going so far as to call it our “barn”, ever so romantically. It will have a green roof. It will house chickens. It will sport an arbour covered in hops and clematis.
It will be built, one day, and it will be fabulous.
Then, unexpectedly, a friend offered to give us a shed she wanted off her property.
Doesn't look like much, but it's really solid, insulated, and wired for electricity.
We’re all about the recycling, and after checking it over and finding it sound and suitable, we took her up on the offer. The only catch: we were in charge of moving it.
A few phone calls to neighbours and we had a couple of tractors lined up, along with a flatbed trailer.
Getting shed onto trailer: easy peasy.
Getting shed off of trailer: not so easy. (Insert your "how many guys does it take..." joke here.)
Pull, John, pull!
Ta-da! Just imagine it with siding, and an arbour off the peak of the roof!
It took some manoeuvring, but we got it right in the spot we wanted it. It may appear to the untrained eye like we just acquired an enourmous project. But to us dreamers, we just got a fast-forward on our good intentions.
Oh, the possibilities...
I’ve been functioning okay for several years with a Black and Decker battery-powered grass trimmer, but the time has come to replace it. I bought it hoping to minimize my energy use, and to avoid the whole mess of gas. It worked really well, with great power and easy controls. But it just didn’t stand up to our property. With only about 15 minutes per charge, with six hours between charges, it barely scratched the surface of our 1.4 acres of grass, brush, fence lines, et cetera.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a great little machine, and I made it work for a while there, but it simply was not designed for large properties. When the battery finally gave up the ghost this spring, Chris convinced me it was time to suck it up and get a gas powered model.
So I’ve been doing my homework.
While I have been very pleased to note how efficient some of these little engines are (there goes my rechargeable battery arguement), I was having trouble processing through all the different choices. My experience with machinery is quite limited, you have to understand, so all this “cc” and “stroke” was Greek. I really thought I had it figured out though, and had settled on dishing out for a four-stroke (no mixing fuel!), until I talked to the guy at the John Deere dealership who tried to explain to me why some four stroke engines might still require an oil/gas mix…
So I did what any self respecting girl would do: I posted a request for advice on my Facebook.
24 hours later, I had enough comments to help me narrow my search down to three brands: Troy-Bilt, Husqvarna, and Stihl.
That, or, as my friend Russ recommended, get a goat.
Which is something we have actually considered.
But for now, while I really like the Stihls (which make you feel like some kind of landscaping superhero), I can’t rule out the Husqvarna: too many testimonials.
Time to count my pennies.
We have either eaten or processed four flats of strawberries and one of blueberries in the last two days. As much as I wish I had grown all that myself, alas, it is not so; one day I will go there, but it is not today. I ordered them from a grower.
I picked them up Monday afternoon, and realized what I had done to myself. See, when I say ‘flat’ of berries, I’m not talking about the plastic tubs from the grocery store, I’m talking about the big cardboard trays that hold twelve dry pints. When I ordered them, it seemed like a very reasonable amount for what I wanted in my pantry and freezer for the year; when I actually saw them, all I could think was, That’s a lot of berries.
Monday night we froze most of the blueberries. That goes pretty fast: just sort, rinse, and bag.We saved a pint for Tuesday breakfast and ate about another while we worked.
Tuesday morning we tackled the strawberries. We washed, we topped, we sliced. We sliced some more.
The whole gang pitching in!
We picked the last of the rhubarb from the garden and chopped that up too to make strawberry rhubarb jam.
I like to use half strawberries/half rhubarb (my rhubarb is a sweeter variety) and use about 5 cups sugar to every 6-7 cups of fruit. After it's cooked down a little, I use an immersion blender to get even texture, then skim the foam. I then add a little box of strawberry gelatin, bottle and process.
Twelve pints later, we decided to freeze the rest (those that hadn’t already made it into the oatmeal, into Monday’s dessert, or into our mouths) before they could spoil.
We did dishes.