Tag Archives: Manitoba

Red Headed Woodpecker Count

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Today’s extremely handsome target species, the rare Red-headed Woodpecker. (Photo copyright Randy Mooi)

We are not a bird watchers per se but we do love a good birding event since it gives us a chance to do some naturalist stuff which we really do enjoy, no matter the species. This trip was almost as rewarding for us as the turtle rescue event with a lot less stress.

Our trip was organized by IBA Canada IBA meaning Important Birding Area. When we found out they could use volunteers we jumped at the chance. And I am so glad we did! We met at 7:00am at our neighbour’s house.  Harry Harris is the retired former Conservation Officer for our rural municipality (county in American) and he’s an avid birdwatcher. We were divided into groups so we could each cover an area. Our objective was to survey the area and find as many red headed woodpecker pairs as we could. We were armed with binoculars, and a recording of the territorial drumming and squawking they make to be sent out via a loud speaker. Our area included the town of Alonsa.IMG_2923

And off we went. We drove up and down backroads in Alonsa I didn’t even know existed. That included one long stretch with grass that reached up to the hood of my truck. We were searching for the favourite habitat of these gorgeous birds. They like grazed grass below a stand of mature trees that also includes a few dead ones. They especially like the dead aspen that is soft and normally full of delicious bugs. We had success at our third stop.

The woodpecker is highly territorial and apparently not very discerning because playing that call brought the males right to us, bristling with hostility and drumming and squawking at us as if we were mortal enemies to be frightened off. They would pause a short distance away and glare at us trying to figure out what was going on. Obviously we were not male woodpeckers but we sure sounded like them. We would confirm them by sound and by sight. If we got a male doing the territorial thing, we assumed there was a female nearby even if we didn’t actually see her.

The local farmers, being both inquisitive and watchful, drove by to check us out and one stopped to chat. Once they knew we were bird watchers, and not castle rustlers, they relaxed and had a good laugh. The cattle also found our antics quite fascinating.

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And so it went, driving from place to place, running the recording, waiting for a response and then making careful notes with the GPS on the exact location of a pair. We saw lots of other birds as well. It was fun being with real birders who could spot a little nondescript brown bird and actually know the difference between Chipping, Vesper and Savannah sparrows.

My favourite “other” bird that we saw was this darling fledgling American Kestrel. The baby bird stayed very quiet, clinging to the tree while we snapped a few pictures. Unfortunately the camera can’t distinguish the way the eye can so the picture ended up showing only the silhouette.

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We also saw a family of sharp tailed grouse and fledgling sand hill cranes. We are so lucky to live in such a fine birding area. Bird life positively teems here and we found a new appreciation for our beloved home.

After driving about for several hours we joined all the other birders at Hollywood Beach for lunch. This location resulted in an impromptu shore bird count session. I learned there is a difference between a Caspian and a Black Tern and there are at least five different kinds of sandpipers. I must admit I was more interested in watching the bird watchers than watching the shore birds. The shore birds kind of all look alike to me but enthusiastic excited people are fascinating and uplifting to be around. It was overall a great day and we plan on attending several more of their bird counts and birding events as summer progresses. If you are the kind fascinated by bird watching species details you can check out all the different species at the IBA website.

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Another Garden Update June 2018

We are now in the halcyon days of late spring and early summer. It has been halcyon except for that tornado warning we had two weeks ago. (It was radar warned and did not not touch down.) I love to sit on my deck on my old-fashioned wood rocker seat and enjoy myself in my little piece of the Garden of Eden. The sun rose officially at 5:24 this morning but the dawn actually began about 4:00am when the light first begins and the birds start singing. Last night the sun took an hour and half to finally set at 10:53pm. For the hour and a half the sky was in such a glorious display of pinks, and golds on low puffy “drying clouds” after the rainstorms to the south that I couldn’t bring myself to go inside and get a camera to try to capture it. Today I decided to try to capture some of my plants beginning with my “from seed” flower experiment which has paid off handsomely.

My perennial bed continues its lovely display. Daffodils and tulips have long vanished and we are on the tail end of a glorious display of irises with yellow day lilies about to take their place on floral display. last summer I got some variegated ground cover and some ornamental grass and they taken off very nicely in a bare spot. My middle child gave me a red dwarf lily for my birthday two years ago and it is about to gift me again with orange blooms.

I have one spot that is a mix of gravel and sand and each year native annuals come up. I never know what I am going to get. Every year I have blue bells. This year there are several others. I have no idea what they are but I am hopeful they will have pretty blooms for me. I collect the seeds from local native plants and sprinkle them about. We have one one strip of tall grass we let go wild. The dandelion seeds feed flocks of yellow American goldfinches and this year our efforts to naturalize are beginning to pay off. In addition to the lady slippers (which chose not to bloom this year) we now have a lovely tall marsh grass that is found all over the ditches and wet areas. It grows taller than a man and is spectacular by fall. I tried hard to get a small plant called pineapple weed growing a bare spot near our septic tank. You find it around here growing in ugly bare spots that support nothing else. This year it has finally appeared by the septic tank and I am delighted.

The zucchinis are already producing more than we can eat. In addition to frozen zucchinni lasagna I have been unloading some with the neighbours. I have one cucumber almost ready to eat and more to come. In another week or I can start pickling baby dills. My tomatoes have green tomatoes on them but we are months yet from red ones to eat. It’s hard to wait. Nothing tastes like a tomato fresh off the fine.

The vegetable garden from seed is doing very well. I noticed the ground does well under potatoes so this year I planted potatoes all around the outer boundary of the seed garden. They are growing well. We really enjoyed the corn we got last year but it wasn’t enough so I planted double this year, Every time I look it has grown in our long summer days. Beans, carrots, peas lettuce, dill from seed, and kale also seem to be doing well. Soon we can have fresh salads.

My herb garden continues to delight. I have garlic, oregano, lemon balm, dill started indoors, and I put the peppers in that garden as well this year. I have had to harvest the oregano and its sun drying on the lid of the septic tank as I write.

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In the fruit department it looks like we will have lots of raspberries this year. it’s hard to believe my little single cane is now a full sized raspberry patch. It’s nice to share the bounty with the bumblebees. I have counted as many as forty fat bumblebees in the raspberries at one time. Last summer I planted four apricot trees of a variety that is supposedly cold tolerant to our vicious winters. Three of the four did not take and T&T seeds, my favourite seed supply company, cheerfully refunded my money. I ordered two more and both are budding green this year. I have strawberries almost ready to eat. Last year the strawberries were stunted and funny looking and the birds got most of them. This year I fertilized and watered heavily and the berries look normal and hopefully will be delicious. My Saskatoon bushes are growing my leaps and bounds and have already doubled their size but no fruit yet. My apple tree with the good apples has done very well this year. Last year we got nothing due to a late snow and heavy frost just as the blossoms started. This year we got lucky. We can look forward to a nice crop of apples for juice and pies in August. 

I am leaving the rhubarb alone this year, except for fertilizing and weeding around it. I want it to grow bigger. Same with the asparagus which started as just a single stalk three years ago and is now a big bush about to bloom for the first time. We have a long drainage ditch beside the seed garden with a steep slope that is wet after every rainfall. The should be a good place for fallen seed to take root and grow. 

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Two ornamental trees that are not native to our area have fared differently. The variegated dogwoods are dead or dying. They have  been doing that since we moved in. I am torn between trying to rescue the ones that have some life left, letting them die, or mercifully ending it by digging them up. On the other hand a small tree that blooms each year but seems to do little else was heavily infested with aphids and always on the verge of dying. Each year I worked fighting the aphids, spraying, cutting off infected leaves and poisoning the ants that tend the aphids. This year I see no signs of aphids and the tree has rather abruptly nearly doubled in size and is actually looking quite spectacular which I never thought it would. So I am leaning toward trying to save the poor dogwoods.

 

And of course there’s my husband’s pond, his addition to our life. He has a passion for diatoms and we grow a lot of them. I joke with the neighbours about he grows green slime on purpose.

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I am a very lucky person to be able to live in such a wonderful spot of God’s earth. I am richly and truly blessed. I do think the Garden of Eden was modelled on Manitoba in summer. That helps to make up for the way Dante’s ninth circle of hell, the frozen wasteland, visits this province each winter. Our seasons are a lesson in how we must seize the moment while the weather is good and enjoy nature’s bounty while we can because winter is always coming.

“The world is so full of a number of things, I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

May 2018 Garden Update

We finished one of the coldest (but not record breaking) Aprils on record with one of the coldest (but not record breaking) starts to May. We are now baking in a powerful (but not record breaking) heat wave for the end of May. My point is our climate in Manitoba is one of extremes. You have to garden by going with the weather nature sends. I folded up my wonderful greenhouses and put them away until next year four days ago. While we may have more cold yet, (and that would not break a record unless it got colder than the -6.0C high of 1983) with severe storms in the forecast and the plants having outgrown their shelving, it was time. I had great fun with the greenhouses this year. That is especially so because of the cold spring delaying the normal greening I would otherwise have been outside enjoying. I look forward to being able to enjoy them again next spring.

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Spring was unusually cool though not record breaking. I used my greenhouses daytime but for many nights had to bring plants indoors for the nights. This picture was April 26 which shows how cold our spring was.

I was concerned that the extreme cold we had this winter combined with low snowfall meant that many of the precious trees I had so carefully planted would die. I was delighted to discover I only lost one tree. We planted nearly 200 little spruce trees that were government giveaways to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. These trees were once abundant in our quarter section but spruce were largely extirpated by settlers for use in making furniture and they used spruce for firewood. The majority of the seedlings we had went into our quarter section so we could help restore the natural state of it. We planted 12 in our yard and all but one survived so I am hopeful it will be the same on our quarter section. About half, like this one, had some cold damage but also have new growth and should recover.

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Little spruce coming back after some winter damage.

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I am most excited to see my Saskatoons are taking off. They seemed to spend most of last year and their first year just kind of sitting there. I know they were putting in deep roots in preparation for the big take off but it was discouraging to have to wait for visible signs of growth. This spring it’s there. I am still years away from any substantial crop but this sweet blue-apple berry is a special favourite of mine and it has deep historically important roots for our area. Because of the dry weather I have been diligently watering all my little trees. This had no doubt helped even though well water is never as good as rainwater for trees.

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Due to the weird weather, very cold spring followed by a week of steady 30C+ (86F) daily heat in extreme dry conditions (for the end of May) an explosion of blooms has taken place. Normally we have one thing blooming and then the next. Right now it feels like everything is blooming all at once. I am enjoying the insane catch up blooming a lot. I have never before had so much in bloom all at once. You have to watch where you step because of all the bees feasting in the grass.

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I planted the seed part of my garden in a frantic rush because of the prediction for rain. I rototilled twice, added peat moss and fertilizer and then seeded. I spaced my rows at least double wide from previous years. Hopefully I finally got the rows wide enough to actually run my tiller between the rows. This has meant some downsizing in what I am planting. This year I dramatically reduced certain things we had too much to use last year, like beets. I also switched my cucumbers to the same pot method I use for zucchinis. I moved my green peppers from the main garden where they never did well, to my herb garden. Hopefully they will do better there with more sun and better drained soil. This year, with the bigger greenhouse giving me more room, I also started flowers. They are now in pots hopefully planning to bloom soon too. Morning glories are a special favourite of mine and I have had no luck at all with them here near the 51st parallel. This year I started them early in pots. Maybe I will finally get to enjoy their blooms again. I also found that the heat caused my tomato plants to take off so quickly that their tops quickly outgrew their pots. Even though it is entirely possible to have more frosts, I relented, perhaps foolishly, and set them out in the tomato garden. I moved six plants into bigger pots. That way I can still have a few tomatoes even if I get frosted out and I am also going to be trying growing tomatoes in pots if it doesn’t freeze.

Of my garden vegetable/fruit perennials all of them survived and are growing nicely. I have rhubarb, chives, horseradish, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, and garlic in abundance. It has been very dry so I have been watering even the established plants. I also kept red onion seeds and I have planted them among my tomatoes to drive off aphids. I have already said the special blessing for great events, the shehecheyanu because I was able to use chives from my garden in my potato salad which I have not been able to do since the last Jewish new year.

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Our stately Manitoba Maples were the only plants that did not seem bothered by the strange weather. They were covered in their hanging blooms the bees love so much that the whole tree buzzes each spring. For a while they were the only food available for the poor little bees. The maples have long since dropped their blooms and are fully leafed out right on schedule, oblivious to the crazy weather. My hammock was out once the weather warmed up but I took it in because of the rain forecast. It has been too hot to use it since the rain. We had an extremely dry spring. I put in my potato plants the standard eight inches deep and the ground  was bone dry even that deep. I postponed the planting until the day before the rain was due. We had about an inch and the garden is now in better shape water wise but we need a lot more rain.

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There is a spot near our garage which I have left to go wild. For the last three summers I have enjoyed blue bells in this location and it looks like I will again this summer.

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Finally there are the nuisances. Each year I have to hunt up new thistle plants and pour boiling water on them or I end up with giant ugly plants that are a danger to everyone. And the maple trees drop seeds everywhere and they grow fast and would soon wreck walls and foundations if not removed. It was apparently a good year for both thistles and maple seedlings. Dandelions are both in and out of this category. I love their bright yellow blooms but they are growing in a lot of places I don’t want them.

My rain barrel is full and I have a new garden box the will remain covered for this season. The result should be the grass and weeds underneath will be killed and with the additional some soil I will have a new garden box for next year. I have a lot of weeding and cleaning and mowing ahead. The grass is out of control. Bring on summer. I am so ready for eating fresh veggies and fruit from my garden.

Riding Mountain National Park’s Mount Agassiz Day Use Area

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Last Sunday we awoke to a lovely warm sunny day that was beyond inviting. October is a weird month up here on the 51st parallel. It can be warm as summer and as cold as winter in the same day. Smart people take advantage of nice weather because chances are it won’t be nice the next day or in a few hours. Even though it was a lot earlier than I would normally care to be moving in the morning, we packed up the dogs and drove to one of our favourite places. We live on the east side of Riding Mountain National Park. It’s not a true mountain. It’s a long escarpment at about 732 metres (2400 feet) rising abruptly about 100 metres (320 feet) above a really flat plain going down to Lake Manitoba. From our house about 45 km (30 miles) away we can see “the mountain” clearly.

There used to be a ski resort on the east side. The nearest town of McCreary has as it’s statue symbol a funny cartoon fellow with downhill skis. In places like British Columbia the old Aggasiz Ski Resort would barely be a bunny hill and “the mountain” likely wouldn’t even have a name. On the Manitoba flat plain, this is a startling and steep place. Many years ago the old ski resort went out of business and the road up to the lodge was rarely used by anyone except the odd bunch of horse trailers bringing in riding horses for trail riding. We saw both white tail deer and elk on the drive in. Last trip we saw several bears. It is a wild place. More recently the Federal Government has decided to develop this spot. Very little on the east side of the mountain is accessible and so it has been designated as a day use picnic area. We took advantage of the lovely weather to take a hike.

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The only facilities are garbage cans, recycle bins, an outhouse and a big wood pile. There are several picnic tables and a typical “warm up” shelter, a place that in winter is sheltered from wind with a big wood stove to provide heat. There are some paved trails that follow a small creek.

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Because it was late fall, the deciduous trees were bare and the native plants were long since brown and finished. People mowed lawn was the only thing still green and that not by much.

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The narrow creek is lined with round glacial boulders. It was recently made over and so no sand has accumulated in the creek bed. The flow is constant from a flat plateau above that is a large swamp marsh. All of the water runs down into this valley and from there wanders out of the park onto the plains. It’s not a big creek. You can almost jump over it and it was barely ankle deep on this. It is a novelty here though because it is not a typical sluggish green ribbon a most creeks on the flat plain are. It is a genuine babbling laughing creek running merrily over pretty rocks. There is a small bridge over the creek at the end of the path. From there you can start climbing uphill.

The land is clear on wide trails of what used to be the old ski runs. It is a steep but easy trail up to the tops of the old ski hills on either side of the creek. This is the view looking north. We took the south side. We stopped for about twenty minutes to watch a huge flock of mixed Canada and Snow geese circling above in a lazy flock that never quite made proper Vs. We also saw three ravens chasing an golden eagle out of the area with many indignant caws. Except for chickadees we did not see any song birds. The chickadees flocked nearby and then moved off to other things.

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The trail was lovely climbing up the hill. It was wide and easy and dry. Soon we were high above the creek and the valley floor. The sun was bright and the breeze was light and the dogs were having a blast. I resisted the temptation to let Misty off the leash. There are a lot of animals in this park including bears, wolves, cougars, skunks and porcupines and it is just not safe for an enthusiastic puppy. Even so, she had a great time looking at all the plants and sniffing a whole world of new scents I can only imagine.

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At the top of the hill the trail thinned down to a little track suitable for a deer or horse. You would not get lost following it but the footing was a bit more precarious. Even as we admired the view and contemplated continuing, heavy clouds came rolling in from the west and lowered ominously. Soon the sun was covered. We decided to head back to the truck and call it a day.

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Looking into the rapidly disappearing sun, we could see that our trail followed an old cut for electric supply to the ski resort. It would have been fun to continue but with the weather changing fast, not wise. We were not dressed for cold and had no survival gear.

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By the time we got back to the truck, the wind was really roaring, the sky was completely covered and the dark grey clouds were low on top of us. By the time we drove out of the park and into McCreary, a cold fall drizzle had started. We just made it. Oh, it was a lovely time enjoying the sun on a fall day before the weather turned and we plan on going again once we get back home in the spring. A full Alberta clipper blizzard has hit us since our trip to Agassiz and the ground here is covered with snow. Full winter is here. We head south soon, so we won’t be back to Agassiz until spring.

Swallow Fledging Day!

Today was a very big day at our house. We had a pair of swallows start a late season, likely second brood of babies in a nook of our house. I can’t say I am all that thrilled about our new guests because they have made a big mess. However, I love birds, especially such pretty and useful ones, and the mama was so determined to nest right there. I decided to let it slide for this year. I have been rewarded by endless acrobatics and swooping and diving and a few hair rufflings. Today was obviously some kind of special day though because even for swallows, the amount of calling, swooping and acrobatics was noticeably increased. I walked by and saw all four babies sitting on the edge of the nest looking out. I decided it was a great time to finally take a picture. I came outside to find two babies airborne with Mom and Dad and two left, hesitating on the edge of a great big wide open world. The expression on the little guy on the roof reminds me of the look on my grandson’s face the day he was born. Wow. As soon as they leave I’ll break out the hose and wash down this nook and all the crap underneath and I’ll see what I can do about discouraging them next year. For today, I’ll just derive some vicarious joy from their big fledging day.

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Little House on the Prairie Update = More New Windows!

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Does anything update a refresh an old house the way brand new windows do? I couldn’t be more excited about this bit of updating and refreshing. We left the job to the pros because some things are too much for us as do it yourselfers. Last year when we moved in one window was rotted and in terrible shape and needed immediate replacing. The others were in poor shape but we had so many expenses getting into the house that we decided to wait. One thing we are trying not to do is create any debt as we fix up this old house. This year’s new windows were a bear partly due to the need to remove and replace more rotting wood under the sill and do a lot of resealing where old calking dried up, split and fell out, but we still got three more high quality, locally made, window upgrades for under $2000. (That no doubt seems like a lot to folks from the south but we have learned from bitter cold experience not to put southern windows on a northern house!) We paid extra to get really nice windows that are designed to be unhooked and swung in so they can be cleaned from the inside, with high quality easy pop in, pop out, type screens and above all the high insulation value required for our very very cold winters. These windows will be able to handle a ferocious wind blowing in when it’s -40F/-40C without even a cool spot or frosting the even the corner of a pane. We have two windows to go, the front living room and kitchen one but we already had Mr. Terreck do the measurements and that will be next spring’s major expense.

Does Anyone Remember “In Season”? On making relish.

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When I was a little girl I recall wanting to have a fresh peach so badly the craving had me near tears. It was February and peaches were simply not to be had in Canada. I just had to do without. Peaches were only available in the late summer and early fall when big trucks came labeled with BC Fruits. The closest you could get to a fresh peach outside of their appointed season was to eat peaches in a can.

There is a Jewish tradition of each Sabbath and holiday finding something that is a treat to eat that has just come into season and to say a special blessing as you eat it for the first time in the year. I have noticed that it has become increasingly difficult to find something like that because with our globalized world there is very little that is no longer  available all year. I can always find peaches in the grocery store because peaches come from South America and cold storage has extended the harvest year. I don’t eat canned peaches anymore because I don’t want the sugar in the syrup they are canned in. Yet I find I don’t eat peaches very often anymore either.

Now that I am gardening again, the cycle of the gardening season is back in my life. I planted snow peas, edible pod peas and mid season peas which require shucking. The snow peas were ready first and we had three glorious meals of snow peas before they were all gone. The edible pod peas came next and we feasted on those and they were so delightful we didn’t miss snow peas. The midseason peas arrived and were so delicious we found ourselves eating them straight from the pod. It just didn’t seem worth cooking them. The midseason peas are nearly done but it doesn’t matter because the garden has begun producing green and yellow beans. The corn I planted has just sent up the pollination stems so I expect by the time the beans are finished, we will have fresh corn. And so, through the garden cycle we have a succession of wonderful food to eat but each one is only there a little time to enjoy and then it is done. It is a lot easier to find something for the Sabbath blessing when you have your own garden.

Have we lost or gained by the factory food that is available year round? I suppose in some ways it is always nice to be able to have a peach anytime you want. And yet this has made peaches common place and there is no longer the wonder of a fresh peach in season. And so I am left to wonder, is it that we are accustomed to having peaches all the time that has made them ho hum? Or is it that the factory farm methods that allow mass produced peaches year round have robbed us of taste? Are our palettes dulled or is the fruit itself dull? I suspect the latter. On our trip to BC in fall a few years ago, I happened to drive through a place selling peaches right off the tree. Eating a fresh peach in season directly from the orchard, makes you realize how bland and plain the store bought peaches, readily available year around, actually are. I just don’t like those peaches very much.

In the old days, everything was seasonal and there was always the long winter to fear when no airplane and ships could bring bounty from the southern hemisphere. Those long dark times of potential ever present hunger meant our forebears never took for granted anything grown in summer. You had to put food by for winter and no one would ever waste food by allowing it to rot. Mothers encouraged children to eat more than they should because that layer of fat acquired just before winter might mean making it through the winter when times were lean. If you had an excess of something you put it by anyway because you could always trade it or sell it to someone less fortunate in winter.

Relish is one of those foods invented to avoid wasting food and provide food in winter when food was otherwise scarce. There are at least as many forms of relish as there people who make it and I think perhaps even more because no two relishes made from your own garden produce are ever exactly the same. A traditional relish is put together with vinegar and sugar and salt to preserve it until winter. It is cooked to sterilize it when it is put by so moulds and bacteria don’t eat it in the meantime. A short boiling water bath fixes the seal. Very little else is constant about relish. I hate relish myself but my husband loves it.

Relish is designed to be made from the excess of the garden so it doesn’t go to waste. Too many cucumbers to eat now? Some green tomatoes the slugs munched on that will rot not ripen? Not a problem because these are the staple ingredients of a good relish. And why not throw in the leftover raw store bought corn from three cobs left in the fridge after the big feast, some zucchini tops from zucchinis where blossom rot has ruined the ends, onions accidentally pulled too soon while weeding can be chopped and added, raw cabbage from the end of the head, a bit of horseradish root the neighbour dropped off, and a few hot peppers just starting in the garden but knocked off while hunting peas. Some judicious cutting and soon the pot is full enough to make relish even if there is not enough of any one thing to do anything else.

My husband likes his relish spicey so I used a hot dog relish recipe that called for spice and included turmeric and red pepper and mustard. He tasted it while it bubbled in the pot and pronounced it perfect. And now what was potential garden waste is six jars of very fine hot dog relish. My husband laughed and said for him it is a two year supply. But that’s all right. At some point this winter he will open a jar of hot dog relish and memories of summer will come with the taste and smell and it will all be worth it. And because I made it exactly the way he likes it, instead of the way some large company designed it aimed at the lowest common denominator, chances are it will not last two years. I can’t help but think my great grandmother would be proud of me for growing my own food and using up garden snips and bits instead of just purchasing a jar of relish from the store.