Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wild Berries in Bloom - Part 3

Another wild berry in bloom right now are the thimbleberries. This plant has no thorns & that makes harvesting a whole lot easier...unless you knock the berry off the plant first!

In a few weeks, the berries will start to ripen & they are red & full of very small seeds. They are not a big chunky berry like a raspberry or a blackberry. They are almost like a small cap that can fit on the end of your thumb & are nice & sweet.

When they start to ripen, the cluster takes its time. I find I will usually head out every 3 days to harvest the berries as only 1 berry from each cluster seems to ripen at any given time. A bit of a production to gently wade into the ditches where they grow & make sure not to knock them off the shrubs, but again, flavour is intense!

When I make jam I usually strain out about half of the little seeds as some people don't like the crunch too much. And I'm pretty sure one year the harvest out here was so large that I had enough to make a small batch of wine!

Since the shrub grows in ditches, the road clearing crews will come & cut them all back about every 3 years. I think the community of Bamfield has managed to convince them to wait until after the harvest season to do this as one year, they came with their giant brush cutter right at prime blackberry season & razed everyone's crop!

Many people pick wild berries - you don't have to do much other than go for walks with a bucket strapped around you & the flavours of wild berries are sometimes much more intense than commercially grown fruit. Just make sure you know what you are picking!

I'll share more on each as the season progresses. It's always good to know what you've got growing around your neighbourhood!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Wild Berries in Bloom - Part 2

 Another wild berry that grows out here & some might not see too much of it, are the native trailing blackberries. In a country where blackberries are bane of many people's lives, I can't have enough of certain varieties & this one I would love to have a whole fence-line of!

It grows low & on the ground; most times you won't even know it's there unless it becomes wrapped around your ankle. Right now it is in bloom & what I try to do with the few I have growing on the one side of the property is drape the vines up & over the shrubs or through the fence. The vines quickly become camouflaged over the summer & I might forget there are berries to be had!

Once the berries do start to ripen, they are minuscule. About the size of your pinkie finger nail! It takes a lot of time to find enough to make any sort of contribution to a meal, so  in all honesty, I usually just eat what I find during my daily wandering.

Maybe one year I'll have stopped pruning that side of the property enough to allow enough plants to grow to harvest & make a jar of jam!

They might be extremely small in size, but they pack an amazing flavour punch. One of the best tasting blackberries I've come across yet! At least on the west coast of the island as I've heard the blackberries on the east side of the island are pretty amazing...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wild Berries in Bloom - Part 1

I thought I should write a few short posts on the wild berries that around out here.

This is the salal in bloom. The leaves are used in the floral industry - they are waxy & stay green year round out here. The plants will grow practically anywhere & if in the sunshine, they will produce fruit.

As the fruit sets & ripens, these little bells fall off & the fruit grows in place. Starting in August, they will be a dark purple colour.

The easiest way to harvest them is to pick the entire cluster as the fruit is rather soft & you'll just end up with mush between your fingers. The flavour is unusual - I often try to describe it as a subtle nutty flavour, but once you cook it & add sugar, it changes into something magical. Jelly is the best way to go - the fruit is rather mealy, so cook & strain the fruit to get just the juice & flavour. Pair it with some good cheese & crisp apple or pear slices & you'll never go back to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches!

I've made wine from salal berries too & am pretty sure if the neighbours heard I was making more, they'd come bang down my door for a bottle!

I'll share more on salal as they start to ripen later in the season.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tired Not-So-Little Duckies

 On my days off, I've been keeping the ducks outside for as long as possible. Very soon they will be moved out to their house & enclosure, so they need to start becoming accustomed to being outside all day long.

Most times I have them foraging with me as I am working in the gardens. They are great for getting under my feet or 'helping' dig in the hole I am working on.

When I'm not outside, or they need to chill, I put them in the dreaded 'play pen' - a small portable fenced space with a cover on the top & food & water. As you can see in the first photo, the dinosaur was very happy to have me haul her out for another wander around the yard. But she was expecting to be carried for part of the way & hoped I would do so by sitting on my feet.
 The little one is not so little any more. He barely fits into my hand! At 3 weeks old, I was expecting him to be bigger, but since the two ducks are from different parents, I have the feeling he won't be as big as the first one.

Afternoons are generally spent napping & so every time I turned around, they were trying to get underneath me for some cover & snuggle time. Silly ducks...

I knew it was time to put them back inside so that I could finish my chores when every time I stopped to take a photo of a plant or check on growth, the dinosaur would crawl between my feet & lay down...

I need to rewrite some of those duck manuals out there - ducklings like to 'cave' - a term I invented. I've provided a covered area on each of their totes to give them a dark, sheltered space for them to escape to when they sleep - not as good as a momma duck, but they rather enjoy it. They burrow underneath our arms or legs whenever they want quiet time, so it makes sense they are looking for protection.

They are also finally starting to get along with each other! The dinosaur doesn't like when the other one is not in view & calls to him. She'll also run after him if she thinks he's found a stash of bugs! Silly ducks....

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Herbal Oils - I didn't Forget!

~ herbal oils now finished ~
Well, back almost 2 weeks ago, I started up a couple batches of herbal oils & promptly forgot all about them!

I just noticed my 2 cookie trays of herbs drying in the office & thought to check on the oils. It was a good thing I made sure they were sealed with plastic wrap & all the herbs were submerged as these oils are finished & just need to be strained & re-bottled.

The smell is quite lovely - I do rather enjoy a strong flavoured oil (or vinegar) as that means I don't have to use too much other herbs in either the finishing of the meal or as sides in other dishes.

Make sure to press as much of the oil & remaining essential oils from the herbs as possible. I have a strainer placed over a 4 cup measuring cup & use a rubber spatula to do this. Pour into bottles, label & store either in the fridge or in a cool, dark & accessible cupboard to use over the next few months.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lavender Harvest!

~ Spanish lavender ~
I love lavender! I need more lavender & have some plants in the greenhouse begging me for a raised bed... soon, I keep whispering to them, as I need to whisper to all those poor plants trapped in pots in the greenhouse...

Today I harvested the blooms off my Spanish lavender. I am going to make lavender jelly! Well, not right away...

I clipped the flower stems down to the first set of leaves, boiled a kettle of water & am making an infusion. In the morning I'll strain out the spent blooms & pop the infusion in the freezer til I am ready to make a few batches of wonderful, sparkling, utterly divine jelly... Just imagine fresh-out-of-the-oven lemon scones with lavender jelly dripping off them....

Now to find a lemon scone recipe that is wheat-free!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Come out to My Gardens - My Flowers want to Say 'Hello'

~ bearded iris ~
If I could eat more flowers, I would be eating like royalty every day!

The flowers coming out at this time of year are stunning.

Right now, the bearded iris are showing off in a few quiet little corners. These were rescued gifts, so I'm not really sure if they have specific names or even how old they are.

I have several different varieties & am lucky that they bloom at slightly different times so the gardens are always in a change of wardrobe.

~ mullein ~
The mullein has gone through a bit of a thinning in the gardens. I had to remove all the plants from one bed that became infested with moss. This was the bed that had the majority of my mullein plants & I don't think I was able to rescue as many of them as I thought.

Now begins the process of slowly dividing them over the next few years & increasing my population. These again will provide a second set of flowers if I prune them back when they start to look tired. Right now, they are perfect for the insects & sort of have an 'insect look' to them themselves.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Duck Family Update...

~ 1 month old! ~
 Spring is such a busy time of year & sometimes you just have to sit back & watch the action around you.

The ducks are growing every day - not surprising & actually rather cool to see changes that occur almost over night!

The dinosaur (I am starting to use a name... but it's not reveal day yet...) is molting - the baby fluff is being shed & her first feathers are coming along. I keep watching around the face to see if any Muscovy indications are making an appearance, but so far... none.

This morning I brought them out with me into the big wide front yard to enjoy the sunshine. Morning bath rituals are important to get rid of the itchy bits from her newly emerging feathers.

And almost over night, her wings have suddenly grown! She'll still look awkward for a few more weeks; the wing feathers seem to be some of the last ones to come in.

~ duckie now 2 1/2 weeks old ~
The little one is 2 1/2 weeks old now & is still a cute cuddler. This one is becoming very adept at catching insects & running around the yard.

The cheeping at 3:00 in the morning will hopefully end soon... that's getting a little exhausting.

The duck enclosure is almost finished. A few more  finishing touches to the house & some more concrete for the fence & we should be able to move them out for full days in a week. The totes in the laundry room downstairs are becoming a bit confining...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Perennial vs Annual

~ perennial bachelor buttons ~
 I try as much as possible to grow perennial plants - flowers & herbs especially. Saves a whole lot of time & effort in the spring when you know your plants will return on their own & all you have to do is treat them nice.

One of my new found favorites are the perennial bachelor buttons. I was lucky enough to have a friend give me a large pot full of plants a couple years ago - she thinks they are horribly invasive & if they are, well, I've got a few spots out here that could do with some invasive plants!
Right now they are starting to bloom & you might mistake them for thistles as the flower is similar in appearance.

Throw them down in a slightly damp area of your yard & they'll pretty much take care of themselves. The plant will grow wide & does have the tendency to fall over & have that slightly ugly wide-open centre look. I might try growing them up in shortened tomato cages to help support the flowers & leaves, but usually I'll just cut them back when they look spent & if the season is right, they'll grow right back & give me another set of flowers.

If you don't want them spreading, make sure to dispose of the seed heads appropriately - don't compost a seed head that is set - either 'donate' it to the ditch or a wild area you enjoy. This is the kind of plant that will propagate itself only when you don't want it to!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wildflowers Always Migrate

~ purple Columbine ~
 The wildflowers are starting to make an appearance - they are mostly in purples & pinks out here (in my yard).

They like to wander around, appearing in new places each year, some years more in pink, some years more in purple.

The Columbines are tall, stately flowers with gently nodding blooms that attract all sorts of pollinating insects & I'm sure the hummingbirds check them out periodically too.

~ pink Columbine ~

As the flowers set seed, I try to make note of which ones are pink or purple - if I want to increase the colour of one, I have to cut back the other so I'm not harvesting the seeds of the colour I don't want. Most years I forget to do that, so it's always a guessing game as to what Mother Nature will give me.

I don't mind - Columbines are easy to grow.

Now, if only I could have some of those hybrid ones from the nursery in reds & yellows... but I'm sure they would becoming cross-pollinated with my wild ones & eventually return to the pink & purple colour...

Monday, May 12, 2014

An Early Harvest is on the Horizon~

~ Spanish lavender ~
I have a new pot of Spanish lavender up on my deck & daily I can see the blooms growing. It's getting close to that time where I can harvest them & make my first batch of lavender jelly for the season...

I'll wait another few days so that the bees & other insects can enjoy them too...

Hopefully my other lavender plants start to pick up with some of this warmer weather & produce blooms again this year.

I do need to learn the art of propagation by cuttings... one can never have enough lavender in the yard!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How to Make Herbal Oils

~ ingredients for herbal oil ~
 Spring is a great time for harvesting fresh herbs - you'd be amazed at how quickly they will grow back & allow continued harvesting through the summer.

I decided to make some herbal olive oil with which I use in cooking & baking for the rest of year, reserving fresh herbs for salads & dried herbs for my salts.

* Olive oil (or use grape seed oil - lighter flavour which will bring out the herb flavour more)
* jar with lid
* plastic wrap
* fresh herbs

How to:
* I like to pick the herbs in the late morning after any dew has dried but before the aromatic oils have evaporated. If you need to wash them, you must make sure you remove all water from them (spin in a salad spinner or wrap in a dry tea towel tightly). If there is water on your herbs, that will not mix with the oil & the chances of the oil going 'off' is increased greatly.
* rough chop the herbs - you want flavour to escape & the chopping & bruising of the leaves & stems will allow the essential oils & flavours to blend with the oil.
* pack the herbs into the jar & pour in the oil.
~ marjoram ~
* make sure the air bubbles are released from the oil & all the herbs are submerged. Swirl a chop stick through the blend to help the air bubbles escape.
* I place a large piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the oil to ensure that the herbs remain submerged & to also keep the oil off any metal parts of the lid. If your herbs stick up out of the oil, they will start to mold & will ruin your oil. Metal & oil do not mix either - if you are able, find reusable plastic lids
* label your jar & include the date! Sometimes I find items in the pantry with no label & I have no idea how long they've been there - are they still edible? Also, the hubby has to know what is in the jars & bottles or else the wrong item may be used by accident.
* store in cool, dark place - stir daily (if you can remember) & then strain out the herbs after a couple of weeks & place oil into a bottle with a tight fitting lid. It will keep in the fridge for months & adds great flavour to whatever you cook or bake.
~ harvest of herbs ~

 If you have extra herbs left over, place them on some parchment paper on a cookie sheet & dry them for use in salts or rubs. I place my cookie sheets in the back office & after a week or so they are dry & will be packed into jars just as they are. I grind them up in a spice grinder just before I use them & the flavour is still fresh & strong.

Just remember: dried herbs have stronger flavour than fresh herbs, so reduce the amount you use if converting in your recipes.

The herbs I used today were rosemary & marjoram.              

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Everyone Needs a Little Therapy

~ many forms of therapy in action ~
 Summer is slowly gearing up.

The gardens are taking off, whether they've been planted or not & sometimes the weather cooperates & allows you to spend time outside.

Work can keep you too busy sometimes too, so it is important to learn how to relax outside in your chaos, disasters & otherwise not-yet-done garden chores.

I'm still learning the art of 'unwinding, relaxing & enjoying the moment'. Today was a perfect moment in time - THERAPY much needed & absolutely free!

My forms of therapy are not limited to, but most certainly include: sunshine, bare feet, refreshing beverages, ducks & Mother Nature's symphony in the back ground.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taming Those Wild & Prickly Canes

~ loganberry blooms ~
I think I've finally figured out how to successfully grow large quantities of loganberries: Grow them sideways!

Last fall I spent a lot of time pruning back the old canes & tying the new canes to my fence to have them grow sideways - horizontal if you like.

~ wall of loganberry blooms ~
The new growth sprouting from the canes is where all the berries are going to be produced. I know this is what certain fruit tree growers do, but this is the first year I've consciously done it with the loganberries.
 Almost every single vertical shoot growing along this fence is a flower blossom bunch.

I'm very excited to see the potential I have here - the loganberry jam I make is quite the flavourful power punch & goes so well with cheese & other fruit that you'll never look at bread again.

I also made 5 gallons of loganberry wine that is quite stunning with a slice of lemon & a few ice cubes.

I might try mixing up the flavours a bit this year - introduce basil with loganberry & 'wow!!'
All I need to keep up with for these canes is to mulch around the base of the canes & give a hit of fertilizer once the berries are set & just about to start ripening (so late July).

~ Pacific wild crab apple blooms ~
 I have a Pacific crab apple on the corner of the property & it is in bloom right now. I wish there were a way to share the scent of these flowers with you - I was not expecting such a great smell from a wild tree bloom! The tree is fairly loaded with blooms & this is a great source of food for our pollinating insects.

Crab apples are considered a universal pollinating plant so this is nice to see. I'll have to see if the fruit set & what kind of fruit is produced. I've not really paid too much attention to this tree as I only really identified it a couple years ago after we pruned it heavily (to install the deer fence) & it produced blooms the next year. Wild trees that produce fruit... who'd have thought!!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It Only Takes a Few

~ potato bed ~
This was my herb bed til this spring when I had to remove all the old & dead plants. I decided to bring it into my veggie bed rotation & the best crop to grow on slightly tired soil are potatoes.

They don't require or want rich soil - don't bother to feed them or use compost with them. I planted them 'by the dark of the moon' so it has been a month now. With the heat of last week & the rains of this, they are showing lots of growth.

Soon I will start to hill them & mulch around the plants. I'll be installing my soaker hose in the next few weeks & will more than likely just run the hose down the center of the bed as I usually don't waste too much time watering this crop.

Come July I'll be able to harvest baby potatoes (if not sooner - depends on the weather) & then by end of August I like to have them all removed. I've noticed in the beds I grew potatoes in last year, there are a few that I missed harvesting, so new plants are already growing! I might dig them up & gently pop them into this bed... or just eat them...

Once you grow potatoes, you'll always have potatoes in your gardens!
(ps - don't compost rotten potatoes or large chunks of potatoes unless you want volunteer plants showing up in unexpected places!)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sorrel Pesto

~ ingredients for pesto ~
Well, I harvested my lemon sorrel plants in one fell-swoop. I recall last year the deer came in & ate everything before I could do this, so I've been hoarding my last few jars this spring.

This pesto recipe is not exact - it changes every year based on taste buds alone. Some years I want it really lemony, other years more garlic & since this is a base recipe, whenever I use it, I can continue to add ingredients to alter the flavour for each recipe.

Basic Pesto Recipe:
* sorrel leaves - washed, spun dry & removed from stem
* peppercorns
* kosher salt (this year I used Maldon salt - get this one!)
* garlic
* lemon juice (fresh is preferred, but I use lots & the bottled stuff is fine)
* olive oil

This year I added mustard greens for a spicy kick as I have this stuff growing like crazy in the gardens & it is time to plant other greens.

This is also the first year I'm using my little red machine. It is not really a food processor per say, but it did the job just fine. If you have a blender - use that for a finer, smoother consistency in your end product. I do not use Parmesan cheese or pine nuts at this stage - it can always be added later.

* roughly chop or rip up the sorrel leaves & place a handful or 2 in your machine.
* add a peeled garlic clove, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp peppercorns, 2 Tbsp lemon juice & 2 Tbsp olive oil (or grape seed oil)
* process til greens are smooth & peppercorns & garlic well blended.
* now comes the fun part - TASTE IT. It will need more greens as it will be runny in texture. Does it need a splash more lemon juice? How about more salt? Add the greens first, process & taste again. I find that I will add 4 to 6 cups of greens before I find the flavour that I'm looking for. Usually a bit more salt & a few more peppercorns are thrown in as well.

If you are making a large batch, such as I was here - it is best if you mix all your batches together before pouring off into small jars. A juice jug works well, or large yogurt containers. You can then blend the first batches that might be too salty or too runny with the later batches you make while you are fine tuning your recipe.

~ green goddess food ~
Pour your Green Goddess food into small jars, label & pop in the freezer.

I like to use baby food jars - they thaw quickly & are used up quickly before going off. I think this would last quite well in the fridge for 2 weeks - but mine never do. I use it on everything: poached eggs, fish, in other sauces (guacamole) or in stews or even on steak instead of bbq sauce.

You can mix in mayo or sour cream for a veggie dip that is quite tangy & nice. Add a bit of curry & wowza!!

If you want the more traditional pesto, throw a small jar into the food processor with your Parmesan & pine nuts - maybe a handful of basil too.

This is amazing food & will make your winter meals feel like spring is just around the corner - if you are able to hide a few jars in the freezer for that long!

Early Season Herbs

~ chives ~
 Herbs - these are a MUST HAVE for your gardens & for the most part, they do so well out here on the coast.

A great one are chives - they grow quickly, produce amazing flavoured flowers that you can eat & that help the insect population - the bees love them.

If you have deer, they will nibble on them first thing in the spring & then leave them alone for the rest of the year.

Easy to divide & share with friends or start new clumps in your gardens - I suggest using them as accents in your flower beds too!
~ rosemary ~

Rosemary can do well out here - provided you give it protection during the winter under a plastic covering, especially if the winter is colder than usual & has lots of snow (colder than usual out here in Bamfield is anything below -12 degrees for longer than 3 or 4 days!)

This particular plant I actually grew from seed & this is the first time I've seen it flower. I've had to restrain myself from harvesting too much off it as I wanted it to become established in the flower bed. I think the time has come for me to just buy a few plants each year & harvest to my heart's content. I have an amazing recipe for salal-rosemary-red wine vinegar that will make your mouth water...

Rosemary will make you happy to have close at hand.
~ lemon sorrel ~

These monster plants are my lemon sorrel. They are actually over grown at the moment & I'll be harvesting them this weekend to turn into sorrel pesto.

I'll have to share that recipe (if I haven't already) as it is such a wonderful thing to have in the freezer in the deep gray winter months. Tangy & lemony - great to eat fresh from the garden or tossed in with other greens in a herb salal.

It has a deep tap root - so you might want to find a spot in the gardens or even the yard where you don't mind it growing. Cut it all the way back & it will grow fresh tender leaves again within a few weeks. Some years I'll manage to harvest the plants 3 times! Dig it up & divide every 4 or 5 years to keep healthy - give away what you don't want!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Continuing Adventures of the Dinosaur (Duckling)

~ dinosaur play pen ~
 Yesterday I thought I would introduce the dinosaur to the outdoor play pen. The weather is supposed to be turning nicer, so it would be a good idea to get the little thing used to being outside for several hours at a time, but in a safe environment. (the big duck enclosure is not yet ready, so the play pen idea is necessary)

The duckling was NOT impressed & distress called almost the entire 2 hours out there. Traumatic - more so for me than it, I'm sure...

I was running in & out of the house, harvesting greens & other small garden chores, so finally I was finished & decided to rescue the duckling.

We headed into the greenhouse where I know there are lots of slugs in the raised bed for it to eat.

I put in the tray with some water so that slug-slime mouth wouldn't become too much of an issue & bath time ensued. Bath time is becoming more comfortable for the dinosaur... Yesterday I had it in a larger bin of water & somehow or other, somersaults were performed & it freaked itself out! This duck can jump high & it's really funny when it jumps high because it freaked itself out....

All this is good practice & it is starting to activate the oil gland in the tail so that it will become water proof in no time. Mean while, I have to make sure it doesn't become too water logged & yes... I will use a towel to dry the little darling off...

Seriously - who's a pretty duck??

We grabbed some greens (sorrel, comfrey, lettuce, dandelion, clover) & headed into the house. I thought I would try the sink as a bathtub - a bit more contained for splashing than a bin on the laundry room floor.

The dinosaur can hop down into or out of the sink all on its own & quite enjoys itself while I'm working beside - chopping up the greens for the day.

Who's a spoiled duck??

Can't wait for the little one to grow a bit more so we can include it in our Duck Adventures!!

What's Fluffy & Loves Flowers?

~ the dinosaur loves flowers ~
 The Dinosaur came for a garden wander with me & immediately jumped up into a few flowers bed in its search for slugs.

This is why I prefer ducks to chickens: ducks hunt down those insects & bugs we don't necessarily want while leaving the plants & flowers alone - for the most part.

~ what's rustling in the flowers now? ~

The silly little duck was quite the bundle of energy as it pushed through the candy tuft in its search for tasty treats.

I'll have to try taking some video one day as the noises these little things make is quite hilarious.

For now, I will take this one out with me as often as possible - we need to hit the greenhouse as I saw lots of slugs in the bed in there!!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Can you Hear Them Growing?

~ basket of gold ~
 This morning I heard that there was 6 inches of snow that fell out in Alberta (my sister shared a photo of the confused robins in the trees & she's just west of Calgary!)

I had to run out & take photos of the brilliant blooms we have here. Even in the rain, the yellows & purples are capable of blowing your mind!
~ bluebells ~

Right now is a transition in colours in the garden. We are starting to enter into the pink & purple phase of flowers.

~ Columbine ~

I don't even bother trying to grow any other colours of columbines - they get pollinated with the wild plants & I end up loosing all those fabulous reds & yellows you see offered in nurseries. Plus the wild ones are hardier & you can spread their seeds around to fill up all those empty spots in your gardens for free!

~ forget-me-nots ~

Forget-me-nots may have the tendency to become invasive, but they are pulled out so easy when they are finished flowering that I don't mind spending an afternoon 'weeding'. I'll usually leave one or two to reseed that area & if I find holes elsewhere I'll carefully put the seed pods into a bag & sow a new area of the yard.