Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice

My houseplant tomato is now the size of a golf ball & starting to become too heavy for the plant itself. I might have to rig up some sort of support system for the next few weeks as I wait for it to ripen. At least I hope it ripens on the vine! Would be a wonderful way to bring in the New Year!

It's also that time of year to start checking out all those seed catalogues that have been making their way through the chaos of cards & packages. I have 3 - somewhere around here! - just waiting for me to start dreaming & drooling & coming up with some fantastical plans for the gardens in 2012. I can't wait to see what new things are being offered!

Happy Solstice!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Dirty Under the Finger Nails

 Today I decided it was time to empty the compost tumbler in preparation of a winter/spring batch of compost. The tumbler has proven to be very effective in composting our daily veggie, fruit & coffee/tea contributions, but it does require regular turning (of the crank handle) & occasional periods where we need to stop adding in order for it to compost down fully.

They do make these contraptions with 2 bins so that you can stop adding to one & start up another - wish I had known about that when I first invested in this device!

When I opened the lid, it was steamy & smelled rich, sweet & full of great growing goodness. I knew the steam was a bit deceiving - the thermometer I stuck in said the compost was only about 5 degrees Celsius - the same temperature of the soil in my greenhouse.

Unfortunately, the compost is rather water-logged; when I turned the handle to get the door in the proper position, all this wonderful compost tea started gushing out the air vents!! What a waste to have to let it just drain out & down the yard. Now this liquid is the stuff that smells rather strong - more like rotten vegetation & it's very thick. In the summer I will collect any that I can, water it down & use it to fertilize the gardens. But at this time of year, it's not necessary, nor a rather good thing to spread around. It doesn't do the dormant plants any good & just smells up the yard, inviting possible nimble fingered raccoons to come investigate. (I don't want to think bears...) I've left buckets of the compost tea sitting around the yard in 'strategic' places when it's super-smelly & find that it keeps the deer away for a while.

As you can see, not everything in here is fully composted & broken down. There are still the stems from the tomato plants I crammed in here in mid October & it looks like the trim job I did on my Christmas cactus are still green. The egg shells take a long time to disappear & probably would go quicker if I crushed them up before adding them.

Come spring when I add this to the gardens, I will pass most of it through a screen (sturdy wire attached to a frame) to break up the clumps & egg shells & hold back the stems & other large pieces that need more time to decompose. Those I just throw back into the composter.

There is enough room under the composter for me to put my wheelbarrow, but it the fit isn't perfect & most times clumps fall out & miss the wheelbarrow. I've tried using a spade to 'dig' out the compost, but unless someone is standing there holding the handle so the tumbler doesn't move, it takes a bit more effort.

This year I just dove in with my hands & hauled out hand fulls of the stuff to dump into some totes. It was such a nice, sunny day today that I didn't mind having the stuff splatter all over my pants, my shirt & when I reached into the tumbler - up to my shoulders, there were drips landing on my head & in my hair!

There are times when getting dirty & smelly are great!

I also got to see if there were clumps that weren't decomposing nicely & could break them up a bit. So now I have 3 totes that are about 3/4 full of slightly soggy compost. 2 will live covered outside & the 3rd is in the greenhouse. I will check on them through-out the winter to see if they are still decomposing, getting too wet & if I'm able, I'll add some shredded paper & try to mix it in. This time I didn't see too many worms - it might be that they were hiding really well in the clumps due to the chilly weather, or else I don't have as many in the composter as I did last year. I always leave a bucket-full of compost in the tumbler to help with the new material I will be adding throughout the winter - there are great microbes & bacteria & other critters in the old compost that will multiply & contribute to the new batch.

I wish more people would feel comfortable with composting their kitchen scrapes & grow their own soil!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mystery Volunteer - final

Last night I decided it was time to eat the mystery squash.

Looks like the volunteer plant that grew from a seed in my compost that I spread on the gardens this spring was an acorn squash - possibly mixed with some of the other squash that were flowering at the same time.

Dish: squash soup with pears & Ethiopian berbere seasoning. Wonderful winter food!

The seeds went into the compost & I wonder what will pop up next year when I spread out the compost!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mysteries of House Plants - part 2

November 19

Tomato houseplant is producing flowers.

Gave it a shake or 2, talked 'dirty' to it in the hopes that some abuse will encourage it to continue to try to prove me wrong (that a snake plant & tomato can't share the same accommodation without one or the other suffering in the extreme).

Headed out of town for the weekend.
November 28

Tomato houseplant has actually set a fruit!

Had to do a big rescue today as I'm really good at ignoring houseplants in the winter. It's amazing how quickly some water will revive a tomato plant!

Am wondering if I should give it a does of fertilizer or Epsom salt to continue encouraging growth... So far, haven't given it anything other than water...

Will give it a turn in the window, talk 'dirty' to it again & monitor plant health over the next short while. Might even consider trimming the top to discourage more flowers in the hopes that this single fruit will ripen in time for Christmas.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

 It sure feels like winter out there today! Clear morning that is quickly melting a heavy frost that was so sparkly & pretty when I first got up. Am very glad I got outside last week to do a few things in the gardens!

 I'm so glad my mom introduced me to calendula a few years ago! There are a wonderfully hardy plant & situated in the right spot, will continue to bloom through-out the year. Yes, I've had them blooming right through December & January up on my deck where they get lots of heat from the winter sun.

I've let them go to seed & while the birds have been feasting on seeds lately, I think I will have lots of new seedlings popping up all over the place next spring. The petals are a great addition to spring salads.

 We also remembered to cut back our gunnera - finally. After a few light frosts, the leaves were starting to look a little worse for wear, so we hauled out the large pruners & cut them back. This particular plant had only about 6 leaves, but a few of them spanned 5 feet across!

We covered the crown with the the leaves, which will protect them from the heavy frosts & any snow that we might get this winter (it's predicted to be a cold & snowy one on the coast!). In the spring, we'll remove what's left of the leaves & see our monster plants sprout new leaves & new flowers.
 It's always fun to wander around to see if the shrubs are putting out new buds in preparation for next year's growth. I planted a lot of cuttings last summer, which the deer found & ate most of, but one variety they didn't touch - forsythia! Most of them bloomed this spring & looked like they are settling in to their new homes. In a few years they should bush out enough to actually form a hedge & then we'll be in for a wonderful treat in the spring with lots of yellow flowers!
 The greenhouse is still a nice place for me to poke my head in once in a while. I have a few herbs over-wintering in here (tarragon, lavender, rosemary) and in the raised bed, the radish are still lush & green. I doubt I'll be eating actual radish at any point this winter, but the shoots are nice to munch on & do require a bit of thinning.

I have a few marigold plants that are still blooming despite the cooler temperatures. I wonder how long they will continue? I've also been tucking a few seed heads here & there into the bed & wonder if they will sprout once the weather warms up again. I have enough seeds saved to not have to buy any for a while - another one of my favourite flowers & the deer don't seem to appreciate them as much as I do!
 I highly recommend investing a few pennies in primrose plants. They are available in the early spring & are such darling little plants that multiply & flower through out the year. Sure, they take a beating from a few bugs, but seem to recover quickly & add a bit of colour to otherwise empty winter beds.
 I have 2 raspberry patches - on opposite ends of the yard & while the summer crop was pitiful this year, the winter crop (yes, I get 2 harvests!) has been bountiful, big & long-term. The stellar jays have enjoyed one patch up by the house, but have left the other one pretty much alone. I might have one or 2 more picks over the next couple of weeks, but don't mind that the birds have a food source. I have lots in the freezer anyway...
This is the first year I actually remembered to get outside & 'harvest' some leaves for mulching on my veggie beds. Our neighbours - with whom we 'share' some alder trees - receive the lion's share of the leaves when they fall, so I spent a cool, sunny morning raking up many full wheelbarrow loads of leaves. I had mulched the beds with one of the last cuttings of grass & with the rain & the birds digging through looking for bugs, the grass was pretty much all gone.

I hope the leaves protect the plants still in the beds for the rest of the winter & provide some much needed nutrients before I add my compost next spring.


I have yet to identify this salad variety, but it's doing very well despite the cold weather & has a slight bitter flavour. I really should eat more of it but for some reason am going through a bit of an 'anti-salad' faze in my meal planning. I miss the spring greens....







This veggie bed looks so much better with a blanket of leaf mulch & will probably receive a few bucket-fulls of compost during the winter as my compost tumbler is full & needs to sit for a month or so before I empty it & start over again.

The pumpkin seems to enjoy it's new home & the jays will no doubt reduce it pretty quickly.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Mysteries of House Plants

I have a 'love-hate' relationship with most of my house plants. I could never live without plants in the house, but they confound me some of the time.

Take the magical & mystical appearance of a tomato plant in one of my snake plants...

I have no idea how a seed managed to find its way into the pot - I'm very strict about proper potting soil & not allowing people to just randomly drop things in them - not even cutesy decorations like beach glass or sea shells...

So, I've been watching this poor tomato sprout & develop the last few weeks & now I see that there are flower buds on it. Experiment??

Unfortunately, it's growing with a plant that really doesn't have the same requirements - actually, the opposite in fact. Tomatoes like lots of water & food & for the most part, I neglect the snake plants & they seem to enjoy it.

Well, we shall see who holds out the longest: me, the tomato plant or the snake plant.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fruit Wine - Part 1

I sometimes shake my head when people express a theory that gardeners are patient people. I don't know where this idea comes from & it certainly does not pertain to me - I'm one of the least patient people I know, especially when it comes to things in the garden or things I do with my gathered harvest.

Today's case in point: making fruit wine.
In order to feel like my work is worth-while, I make 5 gallon batches of wine (versus 3 gallons or smaller), which forces me to make sure I have enough berries & fruit harvested & in the freezer.

Today I managed to stuff 18 pounds of thawed blackberries & 5 1/2 pounds of thawed rhubarb into the berry bag, dissolve just over 12 pounds of sugar into the juice & water & add the wine yeast to the 'brew pot'.

Now I have to wait - will it start to ferment?
Each day will require a stirring & mashing/beating of the berry bag & a measuring with the hydrometer to see how things are progressing.

I think I'll be lucky if I'm drinking this by the end of March... This is a serious test of patience, especially during the winter months but the results are worth it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Life in the Greenhouse

I shut down the tomatoes & pepper plants a few weeks earlier this year than last year, mainly because the tomato plants wouldn't stop growing but had stopped producing fruit. Plus it was a nice day when I decided to do it.

I threw on some potting soil from some of my deck pots to top up the soil level & then decided to throw in some radish seeds that had disappointed me in the veggie beds earlier this year.

I don't know what I was expecting, but when I checked in on the greenhouse today, I saw a field of green sprouts! 'Tis a wonderful feeling to see green things popping up when everything else seems to be finished for the year.

I will hopefully have some radishes to munch on in a few weeks or I might snip a few sprouts to eat right away or I might just leave the whole mess to 'do its thing' over the winter as a cover crop & turn it under in late winter to enrich the soil.

It's fun to see what happens when neglect has become my new approach to garden therapy...

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Be Jammin'... part 2

Yesterday I was seeking inspiration in a serious way & spent more time than necessary searching on the Internet.

What I found was a great idea for something new in my jam pot: Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar & Cracked Black Pepper!

Since I don't grow my own strawberries, I thought I would try it with loganberries. But lo & behold, I found a container of frozen strawberries in the freezer!!

So, I did a mix of loganberry & strawberry with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (the recipe called for 1/2 cup, but I didn't want to use up all of the vinegar I had in stock) & then 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper.

The result is a jam that isn't quite as sweet as strawberry nor quite as tart as loganberry & the vinegar is barely noticeable (the variety I have is lusciously sweet & rich) so you end up with a sweet smile on your face before the pepper bites you back.

It's not offensive at all & would probably not be something to eat with peanut butter. Would go with cheese & crackers & a lovely crisp white wine. A jam not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Be Jammin'

Now that the gardening season is winding down & the rains have returned, I finally have time to haul out my jam/jelly making equipment & start brewing up some treats for the winter.

I started the day with whipping up a few batches of 'specialty' jellies.

Spiced Pear Jelly (on the left) - I had already rendered the pears with some star anise, cardamom & fresh ginger & froze the juice til I was ready. A great colour & spectacular flavour. It took about 24 hours for it to set fully.

Rosehip Jelly (on the right) - this one is always hit or miss with me. I'm still waiting for the jelly to set up & I really don't understand why it's taking so long. I picked the hips earlier this year so they would have lots of natural pectin & made sure that I didn't put too much water in the pot when I rendered them to juice. A great tangy flavour & I have a waiting list of people who want the jelly - if it will ever jell... I use the syrup on pancakes & in marinades for pork dishes, but most people aren't that adventurous... Have got my fingers crossed!

Next on the list are a couple of different flavours that I hope people will appreciate.

Raspberry-rhubarb and blackberry-rhubarb. I had a great rhubarb harvest this year & came across many references that a raspberry-rhubarb combo is considered better than the more traditional strawberry-rhubarb blend. So I thought I would try that this year as I don't grow my own strawberries.

It's actually really nice! Since I've not got a very large sweet tooth (I prefer tangy & tart jams/jellies) this mix of sweet raspberry & tart rhubarb is just what I was looking for & hoping for.

The blackberry-rhubarb blend is also very nice - I'm tempted to see how much is left in the freezer & just make the rest into wine.

So this is the start of my 'crafty days' leading up to the Christmas Craft Fair at the end of November. I'm going to have to dig through the berry freezer to see what else I have in there & make a few more batches of jam & jelly before turning the rest of it into a few varieties of wine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Herb Box

Another amazing sunny & warm Autumn day yesterday - barefoot & tank top type of weather! Great time to clean up a few things in the garden & I got dirty to the elbows. ahhhh....

I ripped out everything from a few deck boxes (they were over-crowded with daisies - hint: don't plant daisies in a container that is only 8 inches deep) & I moved one of the boxes down to the landing on the stairs & filled it full of herbs. It's now nice I close to the door & I should be able to take a few snips here & here through out the winter for cooking with.

All of these plants I started from seed: rosemary, sage, lemon lavender & orange thyme. There are a few small winter savories mixed in that I hope will last the winter - I've never grown it before. Mixed in between the plants are a lot of bulbs I found in the boxes when cleaning them out - more than likely yellow crocus, so I will have a nice show of colour come February.

Can't wait!

ps - we had our first touch of frost last night - time to get the rest of the sensitive plants indoors or into the greenhouse!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mystery Volunteer

While most of my gardens are done for the season, I still have some amazing things happening. I wanted to grow Hubbard squash this year - we ate a lot of them over the winter & I quite enjoy the buttery flavour & texture of this vegetable. Unfortunately, all the plants I put in died - either dug up by birds or eaten from below by bugs.

But I noticed about a month later that there were random squash plants popping up all on their own through out most of my veggie beds. I would have thought that the seeds would have not been able to survive the composter & when I put out the compost in the spring, I didn't really notice an abundance of squash seeds present. Well, since I was taking on a new attitude this year (stepping back & doing as little as possible to see what happens), I let all the volunteers 'do their thing'.

This is what the result is. An unknown squash. I think it might be a 'mutant' squash - one that cross pollinated with the other flowering squash in neighbouring beds. I was going to harvest & eat it for Thanksgiving, but found I already had 2 orange Hubbard in the house that needed to be eaten, so it is still in the garden.

It's funny that it looks like a watermelon, but we don't eat watermelon, so I'm pretty sure that's not going to be one of the possibilities. I check on it almost every day - will actually do so in a few moments when I head outside.


The other squash I have still out there looks like an acorn squash - this one was already pecked by a bird, so it might not last too much longer. I had noticed that a lot of my little squash'lings would get mouldy very quickly, so I harvested them at a very small size - slightly larger than a golf ball & just boiled them up whole to eat along-side the rest of the meal. Quite tasty done that way too - even if I never really knew what I was eating.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Visiting the Pear Tree

Well, it's still kind of difficult to see exactly what I meant last week about this being a 'Monster Pear Tree' but I thought I'd share a photo anyway. I went by a couple days ago to see if there were many that had fallen down that I could gather - the lower branches here are picked clean by me (the pears still sitting downstairs trying to ripen up). But it looks like the bear has found easy snacks of all the windfalls.

There were 2 rather large piles of fruity-poo & almost zero pears on the ground. I don't know if the bears will climb this ancient tree, although I'm told that the kids up the road have been known to do so...maybe I should ask them to do it again & shake down a few more bags for me!

Anyway - I'm going to take a walk today & check it out. I have the feeling I will have to wander by almost everyday to see if there are windfall pears that I can gather before the bear snacks on them...

Still - it's a lovely tree!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rosy Rosehips

Yesterday was one of those magical Autumn days - sunshine & warm breezes. I made my way up to the bluff to pick some more rosehips for future jelly making & had several therapeutic moments of just standing in the sun listening to the waves pound the rocks below.

I hope the rest of the rosehips ripen nicely in the next few weeks. I enjoy taking time away from everything else up on the bluff...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Autumn Harvest in Red

Autumn is my favourite season. Life seems to slow down in certain areas while kicking into high gear in others. The gardens put on a great display of bright colours - mine are mostly in yellows & the birds twittering in the bushes are finding bugs & berries to get them on their way for their winter travels.

I grew up in Ontario where the colours & smells of Autumn were bright & strong. I miss that. Here on the West Coast, we seem to miss all that. A lot of the deciduous trees simply drop their leaves while still green & they turn brown on the ground.

But I've found a way to ease myself through all this by harvesting my own crop of Autumn Red colours! This year is a great year for me. I've got red peppers in the greenhouse that are finally ripening & are wonderfully sweet. The cherry tomatoes are slowly ripening too but are much larger than anticipated - which is great as we can eat them on sandwiches! The raspberries are slowly plumping up & ripening - they are growing much better than the summer canes did & the berries are at least twice as large too. It was a difficult year for raspberries, but I'm grateful for these last few handfuls I'll be picking for another few weeks.

There are also wild 'reds' I'm harvesting too - rose hips! I'm not going to wait for that first frost to harvest them - they are just too perfect right now & I think they contain a bit more pectin while still a bit unripe which should allow me to make rose hip jelly this year instead of rose hips syrup (which I rather enjoy also - great for pancakes or marinades!).

So, I'm going to run out there right now & see what else I can find before the rains return...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Jelly Making Time!!

I seem to be running out of time & energy these days to take proper care of my gardens, but when I received a phone call from a neighbour yesterday about her pear tree, I traded off cleaning the house to go & harvest some pears.

And what a pear tree!! I will have to take a photo of it when I head back in a few days for more pears. It's an ancient tree - much taller than it should be & it's loaded with pears this year! I'm very surprised that with the hurricane force winds we had last weekend there are still so many on the tree.

They aren't quite ripe, but when that time comes, we will have only a few short days to gather what we can before the crows & bears come to feast.

I gathered 2 bags from the ground & will be juicing them up over the next couple of days to start some spiced pear jelly.

These little nuggets are much too small to bother with peeling & much too hard to bother coring. I just chopped them roughly & popped them into the pot along with my 'secret' blend of spices. I have the feeling I'll be cooking them at a higher setting for slightly longer than I usually do - mostly due to time constraints (I have to rush off to work soon), but I really wanted to get one pot juiced today. It can then be strained through my jelly bag all afternoon & I can get another pot on the go tonight.

I'm very excited about making spiced pear jelly this year - it's been a few years & is one of the best blends I've ever imagined & created! Can be used in such a wide variety of ways - not just your typical toast & jelly for breakfast way either. Imagine sauces for pork dishes or glazes for baking & desserts... mmmm...

I know my niece will be joyful to receive a jar this winter...it's one of her favourites & for a child of not-yet 7, she has a great sense of taste!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Harvest - Part 2

~ Blackberry Season - collect this in about an hour - can't wait to make jam & wine! ~

~ Greenhouse peppers are starting to turn colour ~

~ Greenhouse pepper - monster! ~

~ Pear tomatoes finally ripening in the greenhouse ~

~ Red cherry tomatoes ripening in greenhouse too ~

~ Volunteer squash - no idea what kind it is & will probably harvest them small & boil them for meals ~

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reflecting on Autumn's Bounty

~ Bee balm - must get more of these!~

~ Begonia - a spur-of-the-moment purchase that is so pretty ~

~ Calendula - regular dead-heading keeps these blooming well into October ~

~ Globe thistle - stunning! ~

~ Golden rod & Helenium - the yellows of Autumn ~

~ Helenium ~

~ Star gazer lily - the scent is amazing as are the colours ~

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Harvest

~ September 3 - fingerling potato harvest ~

~ September 3 - lemon cucumbers ~
It's been a while since I've posted & shared photos, mainly because the last few weeks have been super-busy for me with work & struggling to find the energy to actually get out into the gardens. The weather has finally turned around & brought heat & sunshine. The gardens are limping through their fall colours & I'm seeing where I've become very negligent. But I have had some success with harvesting a few things.

The cucumbers are quite tastey - won't last too long in the fridge, which is ok. These are more of a special treat. The potatoes could have remained in the ground for a while longer, but the bed that I grew them in needs some serious work (turning of the soil & mulch & sowing of a winter crop of fava beans or peas).

Right now I'm harvesting wild berries & should find more time to get some photos posted. I'm just going to enjoy the heat & sunshine while I can & learn to relax a bit while outside.

Hope you are enjoying Autumn too!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stopping for a Moment - Part 2

~ castor bean in bloom ~

~ hydrangea ~

~ gladiola ~

~ either 'Morden Sunset' or 'Playboy' rose ~

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stopping for a Moment

- hydrangea -

- 3-in-1 spirea -

- neon lights spirea -

- daisies & calendula -