Category Archives: gardening

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?

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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

How does your garden grow?

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My 50th parallel garden is growing by leaps and bounds in the usual 16 hours a day of sunlight in summer up here. I planted this from seed except where I specify otherwise. We are already enjoying the garden bounty. As I thin we munch what I thin in our salads. We shall shortly be eating our first meal with turnip greens. Turnip greens are a luxury I was introduced to in the south. We are also enjoying fresh herbs in cooking. The cat also loves fresh catnip. The catnip is growing so fast any cat in town who wishes to get stoned can join mine. (Catnip and herbs above.)

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The tomato plants were purchased ones. This is actually my second set. The May long weekend blizzard killed my first set. They have gone from just starting to bloom to having fruit.

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The cucumbers started from seed three weeks ago are doing very well. I am looking forward to fresh cucumbers and pickles and relishes.

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I put in two roots of horse radish. They have both come up now. I’m not sure if there will be enough root for my to use int he fall but I have located an abandoned garden with horse radish growing wild and crazy everywhere and I will take some from there if I need to.

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Potato plants took forever to appear from seed potatoes but are finally growing. We LOVE fresh potatoes from the garden, especially those little wee ones.

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The beans are just about to bloom. You can also see radishes and lettuce into the next row.

SAM_5619 Spinach. Love it raw. Hubby loves it raw and cooked.

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Baby carrots. Nothing beats a fresh carrot from the garden washed off under the hose in summer sun.

SAM_5623Garlic from seed garlic each plant one clove from the bunch of seed garlic. We are big garlic eaters and I want fresh garlic for my pickles..

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This is an experiment. It is plants for spaghetti squash started from seed. Will it beat the frost and produce something edible? We will see.

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Zuchinni started from plants about six weeks old. We have fried zucchini almost every morning with our eggs so I am looking forward to being able to pick and cook my own. My only regret is I could not  find plants with yellow zucchini, common in the south, here in the north. Yellow zucchini has a nuttier milder taste. Maybe next year I can start my own from seed.

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Chives from purchased plants.

SAM_5627 This was a volunteer I guessed was a squash. It is beginning to look suspiciously like a sunflower.SAM_5621

I put in one row of corn. It’s kind of silly to put corn in a small garden because they need so much room and give back so little but if we are lucky we can have one or two meals of our own fresh corn. You can see baby beets and turnips beside the corn. Most we will eat as greens as I thin. I few I will find other uses for.

Little Trees

Tree

Update: I have just been informed this is not a pine tree, it is a white spruce tree, Picea glauca (Moench) Voss.

I am a tree lover. I could outdo an Elf from Tolkien’s Middle Earth in my love of trees. Tu B’Shevat is my absolute favourite holiday. I suspect my love of trees is because I am a prairie girl and trees are precious and few and far between. Our new stick house has a lot of trees. Most are not native and flowering (but without fruit) and they have been neglected. We are far enough north that most pretty decorative nursery trees do poorly. And not unexpectedly many of my nursery trees, especially the ones that some previous owner wanted to make into a hedge, have winter burn and insect damage and are doing poorly. As they inevitably die I intend to replace them with local native trees and shrubs like wood and prairie rose. Wild roses make lovely hedges.

Among the trees were twelve little local pine trees, either white or black pine, they are too young to tell. They were likely dug up from a ditch or railway right of way where they get mowed anyway. That is what the locals who want pine trees do. This kind of tree, once it takes off, is a hardy lovely majestic tree that towers high and sways gracefully. As a baby it is delicate and doesn’t like most places where it is transplanted. It can be easily killed by either flood or drought. These trees also require a commensal fungi without which they wither and die. The locals move a lot of baby trees before they get one established.

Most of my little trees were in fine health. I inspected them carefully, gave them some nice slow release tree food, told them how much I loved them and urged them to grow. One was covered in aphids being tended by ants. The one nearby was just started to be infected. Oh imagine the maternal rage as I hosed off the aphids attacking my poor green babies. Weekly inspections and more hosing have done the trick. Aphids are gone. Just let them try it again. Mom is on defence with her hose at the ready. One little tree was crooked, tilted over by about 30 degrees, A support, some twine and some digging and the wayward youngster is now set upright to grow as trees should. Two little pine trees were set in my garden. Now that is a good place for a baby tree in terms of being tended and loved but bad if you want to rototill in spring. I had decided to leave them for now and then move them at some undetermined later date.

There was one tree that was not doing well. I tried. I watered it, I added food, I begged it to grow. Nothing. All the other trees sprouted new buds, extended the new green tips, and grew and grew. This one remained stubbornly more brown than green and had no signs of life. No buds, no change, just increasing brown. Several times my husband said “That tree is dead!” but I refused to give up hope.

Today I gave up. With much regret I uprooted the poor dead thing and moved one of the garden trees into its place. I took the biggest ball of dirt I could manage so hopefully the required fungus will move it with it. Since I was already on a roll, I moved the other little garden tree into an empty space between two slowly dying nursery trees. I watered them both carefully, and made sure they were properly straight. I apologized for disturbing them and explained as best I could about rototillers. I hope they understand and choose to grow. I am too old to hope to see them in full adult glory but maybe someone else will one day enjoy them.

Fledgling

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Summer is close by. When I got up I awoke to this sight on my front porch. Just yesterday I told my husband that I had so been looking forward to seeing the baby robins looking down on me from their nest. Yesterday the nest was empty and I felt so bad thinking the babies had been taken by some predators. And then I was greeted by this sight through my screen door in the morning sun. Predators didn’t get the baby birds. They fledged!

Our little county house is home to so many birds it’s dizzying. Although I am no devoted bird watcher I have been watching long enough that I thought I had seen every variety around but yesterday I saw a new bird again and I had to go on line to identify it. It was a pine siskin, I had noticed a small flock of this tiny bird feeding on long tall black seed feeder. They are very common according to the information but somehow I went my whole life without ever noticing one before. The robin, on the other hand, is very common and a rather sassy bird. To me, robin says suburbs and mowed lawns. I was rather disdainful of this bird until I first spent time out at our bog and saw one living the wild life. Nature is harsh and this poor bird did not have a very successful nesting season. I can’t blame them for taking up residence in our suburbs where life is so much easier. This year I developed a brand new respect for the common robin. You see when my garden was tilled up I saw it was full of assorted grubs.

Worms are fine but I regard grubs with a deep suspicion bordering on hatred. Grubs include cut worms and potato beetles and all kinds of things I simply don’t care to share my garden with. The wonderful robin who built her nest in my hammock tree spent hours each day from dawn to dusk patrolling my garden along with her spouse. I would lie in my hammock and watch while this sharp eyed mom diligently cleaned my garden of all manner of grubs. Every few minutes she was carrying off a fat grub to her waiting brood. They would squeal with delight and the grubs would vanish. Every garden needs a robin with a brood of hungry babies. I even forgave her husband for being the first bird to start singing each morning at 4:30am at the first sign of dawn.

Robins also connect with me because when my children were very young we used to sing together. And one of our favourite songs was Rafi’s Robin in the Rain, I often found myself humming the tune while I worked in the yard and it brought back some pleasant memories of when I was a Mom with young children. I felt so bad when I thought the baby robins were dead that I laughed for pure joy to see that baby robin on my deck rail. Wow do they grow up fast! Then as I watched, Momma robin showed up with something good to eat and baby robin let out a demanding squawk. Momma obligingly fed her baby. Now I know what that strange squawk was that I have been hearing since yesterday. It’s not unlike the sound of the phone ringing followed by

“Mom can you loan me some money?”

My kids are well beyond that stage in their life. They are all self supporting, tax paying, solid citizen types and my littlest baby is not that far from 30. My don’t they grow up fast!

The Garden is Up!

This morning I went out to inspect the garden and cheek to see if I will need to replant anything. I was delighted to discover that there is stuff coming up in every row but one. SAM_5590

Here is my row of kale surrounded by weeds. (I will get to that shortly.) I don’t like kale but my kids asked me to plant kale so I did. At the end of the row on the left you can see my two zuchinni plants have taken very nicely.

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A pleasant surprise is all my seed garlic has sprouted. I’ve never had a lot of luck with garlic. Maybe this is the year.

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Beans are one my favourite seedlings. One day you have nothing at all and a few days later you have a row of little plants that actually look like something. Plus they produce enough you can actually get sick of eating them fresh from the garden.

The tomatoes plants I replanted have all taken and are growing like crazy. One of my horse radish roots and one potato have leaves above ground. I expect the rest shortly. Some of the rows look thin and I only have two sets of cucumber plants. If those don’t fill in soon I’ll replant with more but it’s too soon to give up. For fun, I put in sunflowers at the end of each row. I have never actually gotten any sunflowers to eat from the plants but they are so pretty and the birds love them. I plant them for the joy they give me. One thing I have not seen yet is anything from my row of corn. But I only planted the corn because hubby dearest asked me and you can’t get a lot of corn out of a little wee garden. If we get one meal I’ll be surprised, assuming of course the birds didn’t eat all the seed.

The northern garden is a strange thing. We have these incredibly long days in summer with the sun up by 4:30am and sunset not coming until after 10:00pm. Heat during the day and cool at night and usually lots of rain. The result is the garden leaps up so quickly you could almost measure the hourly progress with a ruler. So now the race is on to get the produce grown and in before the frosts of late August. This summer I can’t afford it, with all the expenses of the house, but next spring I hope to have the row garden converted to at least a few above ground box garden containers and have a green house. We’ll see. We gardeners always like to dream big for next year.

Listen to the locals

One of joys of having our own stick house again is that I can have a proper country garden. I have gardened for many many years including three years of subsistent living where the only vegetables I ate were those I grew myself. The place I did that gardening was near lake Alma Saskatchewan only a few kilometres from the American border. Lake Alma is 49.11N. Our new home is in Alonsa and it 50.79N or ten degrees more northern. It works out to about 220 or so km (120 miles further north). What a difference ten degrees makes. In Lake Alma the rule was no matter how nice the weather, you don’t put in your tomato plants until after the Victoria Day weekend which is the third weekend in May. There will be a late frost that will kill them.

I purchased my tomato plants five days after that weekend and it was a couple of more days before I actually got them in. I did ask the locals. They looked dubious about planting now and two said they wait until June 1st.  One told me she waits until she sees the big northerns leaving the area. Big northerns? You know, the really large fat Canada Geese that don’t nest around here but do hang around for a while in May and then go north.

My tomato plants were already a bit spindly and the weather was a lovely 30C and there was no forecast for cold in the long range and so I didn’t listen and I put planted the tomatoes anyway. If I still had my little portable green house I would have waited until June 1st. But that’s gone and I didn’t feel I could justify replacing it this year with all out other expenses.

The inevitable happened. We had three nights of bitter cold with the temperature going down to 0C, -4C and -2C (32F, 25F, 28F). I did my best for those poor tomato plants. I watered them thoroughly and then I covered them up late in the day before the heat had time to dissipate. They came through just fine on the first night but the deep cold was beyond a light frost and into a killing frost and covered or not they got hurt.

None are dead. The damage ranges from slight to nearly catastrophic.SAM_5584

This Plant should recover and be minimally set back. Damage was limited to the edges of some leaves but the apical meristem (budding area) is undamaged. It even had a blossom on it which was undamaged. Interestingly enough it was the old fashioned yellow boy, a heritage variety of yellow tomato.

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This plant is marginal. It is not dead but it has frozen on the meristem. If I leave it, it will come back from the sides but be severely set back and lose a month or more of production in our short season. That is enough to mean it won’t produce much before the first killing frost we normally see by the end of August. I can only hope to get green tomatoes that will ripen indoors or can be converted to vegan mincemeat.

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This one is most likely hopeless. All the leaves were frozen including the meristem. It was a fancy new high yield hybrid too, and so I tried it but bought only one. I prefer those good old heritage ones which always seem to do better in a northern garden. The only way it will come back is from the bottom and it will take almost as long as starting from seed which is not long enough up here in the north to get tomatoes. I will buy more tomato plants and replace the two hopeless ones and add two more to make up for the marginal ones but leave them in. To try to stay on schedule, I’ll buy some bigger plants in larger pots for the replacements. And I won’t be getting another fancy hybrid. I have been told there is a great greenhouse just a few kilometres away.

And as I was putting away all my blanketing and tarps, flocks and flocks of hundreds of big fat northern Canada geese flew over honking happily. Next year I will get a replacement for that little greenhouse I used to have and the tomatoes don’t go in until June 1st or I see the big northerns moving on.