Category Archives: gardening

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Garden Plans and Other Winter Dreams

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Oh winter, when things are cold, the ground is frozen and one can only dream of summer. (I am spending my winter in Florida so I really can’t complain too much!) And I am dreaming! Oh how I am dreaming. Since my garden last summer was such a great success and produced so much lovely food I am full of dreams of this year’s harvest. Things never come out as perfectly as the retouched garden pictures in the seed catalogues. I don’t care. I enjoy dreaming over them anyway. I made many notes for my failures and successes of last year and my plans are in full swing.  The Canadian dollar has dropped to .69 on the American with the result being all foods in our grocery stores that are imported have skyrocketed in price. And so my Canadian dollar invested in garden seed has the potential to produce food worth a lot more if it comes from the garden making a pay off even more likely.

I purchased a small greenhouse and a plant starting light. If I get even half the plants I normally buy at the nursery that investment will have paid for itself this first year. I have tried starting things from seeds before but they always got spindly and sickly and never amounted to any size worth the fuss. Maybe with lights and a mini greenhouse they will this time.

Last year I had some weed issues. We had a fellow come in with a big tractor at the beginning of the year and he did a fine job working the garden up. I could have used a second tilling before planting but I was too impatient. The garden is only as good as the soil so this year I have done two things. First I made a great big note to till twice before planting anything. I also bought myself a small tiller. I will have the man with the great big one come in to do the first till and then I will my small tiller to do a second tilling as I plant and I will have the new tiller to do the rows in between as well. That should make my life easier and the weeds less trouble.

Worms got my turnip crop last year so this year I will be putting them in a different location, sprinkling the area with diatomaceous earth after each rainfall and picking a lot earlier. I will also try the trick of planting some marigolds in among the turnips. Hopefully I won’t have maggots this year.

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I have on my list saskatoons and strawberries. Getting fruit to grow in our climate is problematic but these grow wild in our area and we love eating them. So it should be possible to have two cultivars that give big abundant fruit planted. We won’t get much this year but the future looks bright. I may have to destroy some of the bushes the previous owner planted that do nothing but look pretty before I can find room but I will. I’ll take a tree/plant that gives me something to eat over one that looks pretty anytime. I may make an exception for marigolds if they keep the root maggots away.

Last year I got sloppy about labelling rows and ended up with rows I knew were beets, turnips and kale but I couldn’t tell which was which. We ate a lot of really great green salad from when I was thinning the plants but this year rows will be properly marked. Plus I am adding some cooking greens that can be preserved in addition to spinach, collard and mustard. If I succeed I will have a little of the south in the north this summer.

Some other notes were to grow cucumbers on tomato cages like my neighbour did with hers to make picking easier, plant smaller amounts but more varieties of herbs and plant more varieties of beans. I have always had bad luck with peas but I think I will try them this year as well. If anyone has a foolproof way to avoid having them turn white and fungus filled peas, I am all ears.

My garden seed list is now at almost $250 the largest part of the seed expense being Saskatoon and strawberry plants, seed potatoes, and other larger “stuff”. Last year I kept careful track of my seed and plant costs and the garden more than paid for itself. In fact, I still have one last lonely container of frozen tomato sauce and some beet/horseradish spread. It makes me wince to think of hitting the send button on that order but spring will come, a gardener’s hope springs eternal, and the winter does end. Those cans of tomatoes look like I preserved the sunshine and warmth of summer.

I would love to hear if anyone else is planning their summer garden and what they are planning.

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Simple Pleasures Are the Best

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What could be simpler than a plain roasted chicken, some boiled corn on the cob and potatoes? What could be more delicious than your very own corn picked from your garden and baby potatoes you dug up just before throwing them in the pot?

The corn was small and stunted and so the cobs were half the size of a store bought one but what they lacked in size, they more than made up for in taste. And potatoes, heavenly. I noticed the garden turnips are ready too. I’m not a big turnip fan but Hubby Dearest loves them. We’ll start eating those soon.

I am also still drying seeds for next year. We will have a chance to try out the community garden and greenhouse next year with our own seeds. It’s raining outside and the cool nip of fall is in the air. The days are shortening so half the evening is dark now. I had to rake leaves yesterday. We are planning our trip south for the winter. But today, for our dinner, we enjoyed the simply sweet pleasure of plain chicken, and our own corn and potatoes. Life is sweet.

Garden Tomato Production Outstrips Consumption

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As I expected we found ourselves swimming in lovely fresh garden tomatoes. No matter how many we ate, they ripened faster than we could eat. I decided to get production back to controllable levels by canning three large jars of them for the future. Many years ago when I canned tomatoes, the pressure cooker made me nervous so I used the old fashioned boiling water bath method. Today I am very comfortable with the pressure cooker so I did the cold pack, ten minute method except I went for 20 minutes instead of ten. I find the pressure cooker method much easier. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen the way the boiling water bath does. I also added my own onions, garlic and some store bought celery to the jar before canning. The tomatoes are a mix of yellow and red and the yellow ones are considered low acid so I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice just to make sure the acid level is high enough to avoid problems even though, with pressure canning, botulism shouldn’t be an issue. These tomatoes will make great sauce later with the year when the garden is finished. I will put them on the new shelves I have been building in my storage closet/tornado shelter.

There is a lot of personal satisfaction to putting your own home grown food by for later use. It’s only three jars because the I didn’t plan a garden for getting a whole years worth of veggies. I did that for three years in the past when I lived on a farm and we did what was basically subsistance farming. Next year I will consider more tomato plants and maybe more canning. In the meantime the jars are cooling, the colour is lovely, and three jars of stewed tomatoes worth about $15 will end up in my basement after about 30 minutes of work.

Garden Update for End of August

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The garden is now at the point where I am thinking rather wistfully of frost. This is today’s haul and is typical for a day. The robin has fledged her second brood and so she is no longer on slug duty and they are thick in the garden. I am finding I have to pick the tomatoes as soon as they begin to turn or the slugs eat holes in them. In one of our big winds several of my tomato cages got knocked over so I am also picking tomatoes off the ground even if they are still green. Yesterday I made spaghetti sauce from scratch. I have been giving away excess but I will very shortly have to begin canning tomatoes. I like to make fancy stewed and herbed tomatoes when I can since those are expensive to buy and take very little extra work if you are canning anyway. At the rate they turning by week’s end I will doing my first big batch.

The cucumbers have been a disappointment though not really due to anything they have done. It’s just been too darn wet. I should be at the top of the production of pickles but I am barely getting a small jar a day for pickles. I am also beginning to harvest the carrots, not just thin them, picking as much as we can eat in a meal every other night. Making pickles means garlic and as you can see by the muddy white ball, my garlic has been the best I have ever had. I have begun using it up one plant at a time and I am about 1/8 of the way through what I planted.

The beets and turnips are growing fat and sassy. I am leaving them for later to let them get to a decent size. I actually have corn ripening. The cobs are small but we might actually get a taste.

Some of my potato plants looked like they were giving up and dying, withering away without blooming, so we dug up the three plants.  I planted five different types of potatoes and it would seem the red ones, my personal favourite, are the ones that are giving up. (I didn’t note which ones I planted where figuring I would remember but I didn’t.) The red ones didn’t die in vain since we got some fresh potatoes in the dig, about 4 per plant. We do have enough for a couple of dinner and what is tastier than new potatoes? Note to self, the other varieties are doing just fine so next year repeat that assortment of varieties since conditions can vary so much. I have found the red ones perform well in drought in the past so I think the wet was what made the red ones unhappy this year. The purple and white plants look especially good, still vigorous and spreading and they have not bloomed yet. They must be good for wet years.

And of course there are the zucchinis. One plant is still having blossom rot issues but the other two are putting out at a fine rate. We are still eating our own zucchini for breakfast every day and loving it.

There is very little work in the garden now, just picking and cleaning plants out that are done. I have also decided to try collecting seeds. I planted heritage varieties and a community greenhouse has been put up two blocks away. I will try starting plants from my own seed myself next year and starting my own plants indoors. If it doesn’t work, I can always buy seed and plants at the nursery. If my seeds do work, I will save myself about $100.

Funny how you wait all winter to get the garden in, fuss over every little green shoot in May and stand looking at the garden imagining the bounty in June when all you are getting is radishes. By the end of August you start kind of half hoping for frost so you can quit. Now to wash off those carrots and potatoes for dinner.

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.

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