Monthly Archives: July 2015

50th parallel gardening in the prairies.

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Several thing happened to my garden since my last update. Ten days ago after a week of baking heat, we got nine inches of rain in 48 hours. This was followed by several more days of at least an inch of rain a day. I wish I could complain a lot about this being an unusual year but its not. This is prairie gardening. So in addition to ….long….. summer days, and a short growing season there is insane swings in temperature and water. The long hot days of no rain you can compensate for with a hose and sprinkler. There is nothing you can do about too much rain. Well not quite nothing. I deepened a preexisting trench at the bottom of the slant of the garden to get water to drain a little faster. The trench was put in by the previous owner of this garden patch indicating just how not unusual the situation is.

The result of all the wet meant that the spinach promptly up and died except for the fourth planting that went to seed when it was only five centimeters tall and had maybe four teeny tiny leaves. So the spinach is done for the year. With the staggered planting we had several meals of spinach fresh and cooked but we ate it as soon as we got it so none was put by for later. Note to self, more spinach, less staggering. Radishes, well the last of those are in the picture. And you can see what all the rain did. They split. Same note re radishes. The corn has taken on a rather sickly hue of yellow green and it may or may not recover. And one tomato plant that was standing in water for days gave up and died. It also meant I couldn’t get in to weed for nearly a week. The weeds, being prairie weeds and well adapted to this local environment, took off, well like weeds, with the wet. This is why I didn’t plant any peas. Every year I have tried one of these heavy rainstorms has started the powdery mildew and no peas.

Some thing didn’t care. The beets and carrots did just fine and today I thinned them again. The results are above and represent a meal of baby carrots and beets. The green beans seemed to absolutely love both the heat and drought and the wet. They are in full swing now and we will be enjoying green beans for a while. I don’t seem to have any yellow beans which is strange because I planted both green and yellow bean seeds. I lost quite a few baby bean plants to frost and now I am wondering if maybe it was all the yellow ones. Note to self, next year separate rows, and green beans seem spring hardier than yellow.

The tomatoes are doing very well in spite of one untimely death. They not only have lots of heavy green fruit but they also are still blossoming and we have been enjoying small yellow ones for about a week now. They are beyond delicious and I wish they would hurry up and produce more. The cucumbers took a hit but look better. I have tiny two inch cucumbers. The zucchini responded to the extremes by producing the weird looking ones you see. I think they like wet better than drought though because the weird ones started in the drought and the ones coming up behind these two look normal. The zucchinis are the only thing that has taken over and overshadowed the weeds. We had a huge wind that took out all the sunflowers so they are now lying on their sides and the heads are bent up from the talks at ninety degrees. I think they may still make nice flowers but they look very strange. The lettuce is getting close to bolting but isn’t quite there so we will have lettuce a bit longer. Surprise surprise my experimental spaghetti squash took a great leap up and are now in bloom. They seem to like rain too.

And finally the momma robin has been very busy because the rain caused a huge outbreak of white slugs. Fortunately, the robin is now on her second brood of babies and they are hungry little guys who needs lots of slugs to grow into adult robins. So the rain has been good for her.

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Home canned meals are great!

SAM_5876 (1) Hot fresh bread and using up emergency meals. For tonight’s dinner, I made a loaf of fresh honey whole wheat bread to go with my jar of beef stew. The quart jars are a meal but just. Hearty fresh bread rounds them out perfectly. Last summer I was reading up on being prepared for disasters and I researched various kinds of food and considered our lifestyle. I then set about to set us up with everything we would need to sell sufficient and well fed for at least three days. Part of this involved preparing some home canned complete meals we could just open, reheat and serve, or if required, eat cold. By canning at a time fresh produce was cheap and abundant at a local you pick and buying meat on sale, I was able to have one dozen of my own prepared meals to eat. If you have never canned food before, it is important to use a pressure canner if meat or low acid food is involved because boiling just won’t get stuff hot enough to kill nasty spores like botulism. I was very careful to create my meals with that in mind. I also saved some time and energy by making a double meal and eating half for dinner and canning the other half. I made beef stew, chicken stew, spaghetti sauce, chili concarne, minestrone, chicken soup, vegetable soup, beef meatball loaf, turkey soup, turkey stew, mushroom soup,      and beef soup. I used all fresh from the local pick you-own-veggies place with lots of fresh herbs (although I did get a bunch of mushrooms off the clearance shelf). I was very careful to use only vegetables that have a reputation for canning well like corn, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, and beans. I also checked on line to make sure the combinations I used were compatible when canned. The emergency meals are approaching the one year mark and the garden is about to boom with more produce, so I decided we should eat up the old meals in preparation for a new season. So we are working our way through them. I have made one absolutely delightful surprise in this. I always thought those canned meals from the grocery store were horrid because of the pressure canning process ruining the food. It simply isn’t true! Home canned meals taste superb, almost as good as if they were fresh from the pot the same day I made them. They have all the lovely flavour, depth, and texture of home made. In the picture above I show my home canned beef stew with carrots, potatoes, corn, little one bite chunks of meat, celery, parsley, and onions there were used to make the broth and a bit of salt and pepper. I cooked the meat and broth first. I prepared the veggies and then layered them into the jar raw. I poured more hot broth in to fill the jar until I had one inch of head room and then popped it all directly into the pressure canner. I used to use the bread maker for my bread. I didn’t like how the loaves came out so I would use the machine just to knead and then bake it in my own oven and use my own pans. We actually wore out so many bread makers (one about every two years) that we decided to spend a little extra and get a proper Kitchen Aid with the dough hook. I do love using it and that loaf of honey whole wheat bread pictured above is one product of it. Homemade bread is also a great way to use up all kinds of snips and bits of things. For example, in this loaf I added some shelled sunflower seeds that we purchased for salad topping but which were beginning to go stale. The result was a hearty, nut flavoured loaf. Making your own canned meals and bread is one of those things that is a fair amount of work up front but once you get into the swing of it, it isn’t hard. The main issue is you have to be around between steps. For example, the pressure canner has to run for 90 minutes where you need to be in the room monitoring the little bobbing thing on top. So you need to be a stay-at-home type with more time than money to make all this work worthwhile. About two years ago I calculated my bread costs me about 40-60 cents for each loaf depending on the type.  The fancy heavy European style dark pumpernickel Hubby dearest loves costs more than plain whole wheat. Bread with honey cost more than bread with sugar. Still the cost is far far below that of buying in the store. The home canned meals worked out to an average of about $3 each with most of the cost being the meat. They are comparable to slightly cheaper in cost when compared to a can of store-bought stuff. However, the homemade meals really cannot be compared to canned meals from the grocery store. When you pick and can local home grown produce the same day, using only really top quality ingredients, well there is just no comparison. I did not include the cost of my electricity in that calculation since at the time I did those meals, we were in a non metered electric site. This year I will have my own garden produce, which will save some money, but have to pay for electricity which will cost some, so the equation may change. My husband paid me a wonderful compliment a few days ago. He said he eats better tasting food at home than he did in his years as a successful scientist frequenting high priced restaurants as a visiting professor. Isn’t he a wise fellow?

Parsley and Mint Sauce from My Garden

The garden continues to give its bounty. Today I thinned out the parsley and the newest crop of radishes. Even after setting some aside for salads and drying I still had far more parsley than I could use. I found Bobby Flay’s Food network recipe for mint parsley sauce. SAM_5874 I picked that recipe because we were having lamb kabobs for dinner and my flower bed is full of lovely fresh mint as well. It was easy to make. mint, parsley, garlic, mustard, honey and a bit of chile pepper. SAM_5875

And the result was a heavenly sauce for lamb kabobs I can highly recommend as well as a whole lot of my garden mint and parsley put to very good use instead of being wasted.

I figure the garden passed the break even mark last week. As usual, it paid for the amount I spent on seed and rototilling and plants just in the abundant lovely green salads we have been enjoying. So everything the garden produced this week is bonus free food. In addition to today’s mint-parsely we also ate zucchini, onions, spinach, radishes, baby carrots, and some small yellow tomatoes. We will very shortly be eating green beans. Yum!

Parsley-Mint Sauce: 1 1/2 cups tightly packed fresh mint leaves 3/4 cup tightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley 6 cloves garlic, chopped 2 serrano chiles, grilled, peeled, chopped 2 tablespoons honey 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 1 cup olive oil Water Salt and freshly ground black pepper Place the mint, parsley, garlic and serranos in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped. Add the honey and mustard and process until combined. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until emulsified. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in a few tablespoons of cold water to thin to a sauce-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/spanish-spice-rubbed-chicken-breasts-with-parsley-mint-sauce-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Heat Alert and our Embryogeneis Explained Book

This is what Environment Canada has to say:

Humidex values approaching 40(104F) this weekend.

A southerly flow of hot and humid air has developed over much of Southern Manitoba, which is expected to persist throughout the weekend. Daytime high temperatures near 30(86F) will combine with high humidity to create humidex values approaching 40. The heat and humidity will not subside much at night with temperatures only dropping into the high teens.

While extreme heat can put everyone at risk from heat illnesses, health risks are greatest for older adults, infants and young children, homeless people, people with chronic illnesses such as breathing difficulties or heart conditions, and people who work outdoors. Drink plenty of liquids especially water before you feel thirsty to decrease your risk of dehydration.

I realize that you southerners are probably laughing yourself silly over Canadian weather alerts for a mere 86F. Just remember this next time we laugh at your for not being able to drive in snow. Be that as it may, I hate heat. Heat is the main reason I migrate north for the summer. If not for heat I would probably take advantage of Hubby Dearest’s American citizenship and try for a green card. I haven’t been posting much because I have been busy puttering in the yard and having visiting grandchildren and celebrating Canada Day.

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The garden is flourishing. Latest update is I have bean and cucumber blossoms and I ate my first home ground zucchini yesterday morning. When I say the blessing on food I add the blessing on good news if its the first time I get to eat something I grew myself and I have been saying a lot of that lately and it’s really nice. The plants are now big enough that the work has slowed down. They are holding their own against any weeds I missed during multiple early rounds of weeding and it’s rained enough I haven’t had to do much watering.

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I have begun planning for next year as well. Next year I will have two raised garden beds. The old fashioned style row gardening I did this year because it was a cheap way to start out in the new yard is far less efficient and takes a lot more room. There were a bunch of things I did not plant because I didn’t have room in the new garden. Next year, lots more varieties of beans and I’ll add peas. I have a bunch of careful notes I am making about the garden because I simply won’t remember next year when the garden is ready to be planted.The main thing I have noted and underlined and put exclamation marks on is Thou shalt not plant until the full moon in June when gardening above the 50th parallel. No frozen tomatoes next year!

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I also put in a solar charging station for the house. This is run by solar power from our trailer and we can use it in the house to charge anything rechargeable like our cell phones, my laptop, batteries, and we are running our satellite radio on it. We have to limit ourselves to 600 watts at any given time so the thing is a bit limited. Nonetheless the power is free that way (less our amortized solar installation costs) and we can always do with lower electric bills. We are also beginning the plans for solar in our stick house and how to do the installation in steps that will give us the biggest payoff without breaking the bank.

The other really really major thing going on my life is that hubby dearest and I are working on our book “Embryogenesis Explained” which will be published by World Scientific when we are done. It is a book we hope anyone who has been through a basic high school biology can pick and up and read about how embryos are built. The book is finally very close to completion. All chapters are written and we are polishing them and rereading for clarity and consistency. That can be really time consuming, as anyone who knows about scientific writing can attest.