Sunday, February 18, 2018

Winter Has Returned

I thought it was rain I was listening to last night.

This is what we've woken to this morning & I believe it is still falling...

Will have to head out to shake off some heavily laden branches to make sure they don't break if the snow gets any thicker.

Right now the cats are out investigating.

So glad I have the veggie garden covered in fabric to protect what greens I do have there.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Signs of Spring

These are the first flowers to bloom in my gardens for the 2nd year in a row.

I'm very much in love with them, despite the fact they are only 3 inches high.

This year our winter has not been as harsh as last winter & for that I am thankful. The weather is still very unstable, with rain & sun being very intermittent each day.

But when the sun does shine, I go out to look for green growth & shoots & blooms.

I'm usually rewarded each time.

This spring I will start mapping out the flower beds to record what is already there, when it blooms &  how I can start to fill in some seasonal gaps to extend the blooms & colours. First ingredient will be another truck load of soil in about a month.

Am looking forward to playing in the dirt again!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

First Session in the Garden

Wow - was anyone else outside yesterday for that brief bit of sunshine?
Remember back to last year when we had at least a foot of snow....

Well, I got out for my first session in the gardens - weeding & removing dead debris from the flower beds to make room for seeds to sprout & new growth the come in on the perennials. As usual, I forgot to take a before picture...
This is my medicinal herb garden that I started last year.

Hopefully many of the plants I received will grow larger so I can start harvesting them this season.

Arnica, mother's wort, evening primrose (will self-seed), calendula (self-seed), valerian, yarrow, lemon balm, vervain, St. John's wort, mullein (self-seed), hyssop, rose and a few other items to be added this year as I come across them.

The tree is a wonderful lilac that should bloom a couple times in the summer.

We will add more soil/compost this season to bring the level of soil up & the stones will be arranged to allow for an easy wander to look at all the plants.

This is what's left in the gardens after the winter season. I've done a bit of clean-up, but not much.

The largest issue right now is that the cats have been using one area all winter (right where I had planted my garlic in October....) so I need to work on training them to find someplace else to dig in.

The mizuna is growing very nicely & I still have some arugula in the back! The winter mustards are now starting to grow a bit & in the next few weeks I'll be harvesting these lovely bitter greens to boost our meals.

I have covered the entire veggie bed with a heavier fabric as one of my 'training tools' for the cats. Of course, they immediately thought it was a new game & were jumping all over it as I was anchoring it down.

I'm hoping the winds don't rip it all up & the rains are still able to get through.

I planted broad beans where the cats had been going & will probably just grow some green cover crops/green manures there for this year to bring the soil back to where I'm comfortable with harvesting from it.
I also planted some early shelling peas - Alderman variety. Last year I planted peas very late in May & it took them all season to produce edible peas! This year, I'm going to plant a few things earlier & use my cloth covers to see if I can be a bit more successful with the cool weather crops.

Here is the mizuna - which can be eaten raw in salads or steamed quickly & added to stir fries or, like we did the other night, added to a hearty mashed potato dish with kale & other greens.

I picked up some cabbage starts last fall & they really didn't grow during the late summer days into the fall.

We'll see what they do as the days start to warm up.

This first hit of gardening was very much needed - am glad that the sun shone for an hour at least. This has allowed me to see some of the perennials that survived, the open spaces where annuals could go & what's going in the soil. Earthworms galore & a good healthy amount of mycelium that was not present in the previous gardens. Also a good time of reflection on what I want to grow this coming season - herbs & veggies & edible flowers. Lots of time to plan still!!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Marmalade Season!

I am slowly turning my attention back to my gardens & my hobbies.
Winter is always a difficult season but the sun is shining gloriously today & I was lucky to find some Seville oranges early this week, which meant I could finally make MARMALADE after 3 years!!

My initial foray into the world of Marmalade Making many years ago was based on this recipe: Dundee-Style Marmalade. I loved the idea of trying something completely different than my tried & true methods with Certo pectin & this was a great recipe to go with. Plus - it uses the whole fruit...

 So I'm just going to show you a few pictures of the process & how I've altered the recipe to suit my own personal tastes.

I like to use Meyer lemons as well as Seville oranges in my blend. It adds a bit of sweet-lemon to the tart-orange. And you don't need a whole lot of exotic oranges to do it either!

I like the ratio of weight of fruit to sugar & amount of water. An easy conversation if you have fewer fruit than in previous brewing sessions.

And I just discovered this year that once the oranges are boiled (to soften the rind), that scooping out the insides with a spoon is so much easier than using a fruit reamer!! Gotta keep things simple & efficient in the kitchen these days...

Slicing the rinds by hand allows for a more personalized style of marmalade. Some people like super-fine pieces either long or short, while I prefer short slightly chunky pieces that will give me something to bite into & get that hit of tartness. 

Another interesting ingredient I put into the jelly bag along with all the seeds & guts of the fruit (which is key to ensuring the marmalade will set - natural pectin!) is my bay tree! I love using fresh bay in marmalade - this particular variety has an eucalyptus flavour to it & works very well with the citrus.

Into the jelly bag goes some dried lavender as well. I just can't help tossing in some fragrant homegrown lavender at this time of year. It doesn't over-power the other flavours but there is something 'extra' there that might give a discerning taste bud a bit of a mystery to solve.

Lastly I add some shredded ginger. Well, by some, I mean about a cup in this recipe. We really enjoy the hit of heat that the ginger brings  & after all, this is a 'medicinal' type of preserve!

I should not say lastly as there is usually another ingredient I like to add, if the batch of marmalade is going to be a Private Stock variety, I will add some Jack Daniels to each jar once the marmalade is finished cooking. You know: one for the cook & one for the pot type deal... not too much...

Now I just have to be patient & let these jar set & side for a few months to allow all the flavours to mellow & marry together. If we have the patience for that sort of thing later on this spring...

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 5 - Pickled Beets

I wish I could have harvested my own beets this year! I planted them a couple of times & all I grew were some very small leaves - most likely they were shaded too much by the peas. Adjustments will be made to next year's planting plan.

This year's beets turned out very well - tried some this morning as I can never wait to see how the flavours all blend together!

* 10 pounds beets (I had a few left over as they didn't fit in the pot, so I would say I used about 8 to 8 1/2 pounds)
* 2 cups reserved cooking liquid from the beets
* 3 cups pickling vinegar
* 5 cups apple cider vinegar
* 3 Tbsp salt
* 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 black cardamom pod, 1 tsp all spice berries, 1 tsp whole cloves
* 2 tsp black peppercorns
* 2 tsp dry mustard
* 1 cup sugar

Cook the beets - whole - til just tender. Some recipes call for 30 minutes, some for 1 hour. It depends
on how tender-soft or firm you like your beets. I cook mine for 30 minutes. It also depends on how large your beets are. I picked a bag of beets that were relatively uniform in size for easier cooking.

Make sure to reserve some of that liquid! Adds extra flavour to your brine! (I wash the beets before boiling them to ensure there is no dirt on them). Strain the beets & then let them cool so you can peel them. This year, the peels came off easily - I used a paper towel to assist & help keep my hands from becoming too stained.

Chop the beets, fill your jars & add the hot brine. I hot water bathed the jars for only 5 minutes as I cut the beets smaller than I've done previously & they were also tender so I didn't want to over-cook them & have mushy beets.

I ended up with 10 (500 ml) jars that sealed up nicely. There are 4 of these large beets left in the fridge & I think I might try a batch of pickled beets using rice vinegar! Someone suggested it & I'm always up for trying something new! I don't think my beets ever taste the same from year to year - which is fine. After eating that many pickles over the year, it's nice for a change with the new season's produce.

Happy Autumn!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fall Blooms

~ marigolds & sweet alyssum ~
 Sometimes you just need to sit & relax in the gardens after harvesting the fruits & veggies of your labour & just enjoy the remaining flowers.

I'm glad to see some flowers bounced back after such a hot & dry summer.
~ sunflowers ~

~ Autumn Sedum ~

~ calendula edging the veggie bed ~

~ lavender rebloomed ~

~ marigolds ~

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Harvest Season - Part 4 - Oven Roasted Tomatoes

I love a home-grown tomato. And this year, I'm finally growing my own in quantities more than I thought.
I have large sandwich worthy tomatoes.

I have cherry sized tomatoes that are just like candy when picked fresh & eaten still warm from the sun.

I usually end up with a harvest once a week of ripe, ready-to-eat tomatoes that we can't eat all in one meal.

So, I thought I would try oven roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs & garlic.

I cut up all the ripe tomatoes, added a sprinkle of kosher salt, chopped up whatever fresh herbs I have growing right now: rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme, winter savory, basil, chives & shiso. Added in some chopped garlic & a very good drizzle of avocado oil.

I then roasted it in a rather low temperature oven (about 200 to 250 degrees Celcius) for an hour or 2. I could have roasted it higher & for longer, but this was my first time trying this, so I wanted to be able to play around with adjustments.

Of course, by the time things were done, it was very late in the day so I don't have photos of the end product. But it all fit into a jam jar & is sitting in the fridge waiting to be used with eggs or in salsas or salads or on pasta.

I will play around with the flavours, temperature & length of time I roast the tomatoes as I continue to harvest. Of course, I will take time to enjoy a great tomato sandwich or sliced tomatoes drizzled with a grand dark balsamic vinegar.