Friday, December 17, 2010

Planning your Garden...part 1

Ok I know its December.  You're probably thinking about shovelling snow and getting ready for the holidays....and NOT thinking about gardening...

Truth be told, I never stop thinking about gardening...but in reality gardening doesn't stop just because you aren't weeding or harvesting right at the moment.  You have to put a bit of thought into planning your garden and this is what today's post is all about.

Part one of this series is going to talk about looking at what you'll be planting come springtime.

Take Stock of Your Eats

The first way to decide what you want to grow in your garden is to take a look at what you like to eat!
Sounds easy...doesn't it?

For people who love vegetables or for those who subscribe to a vegan or vegetarian diet...its simple, but for those who aren't as familiar with gardening or vegetables...this very simple act may take more thought...and time!

I say start now by looking at the types of recipes you make for your family and looking at your grocery bills.  You'll start to notice vegetables you purchase all the time, and never thought about growing.  Perhaps this year will be the year you try it!

I'll give you a short list of the kinds of vegetables we eat on a weekly basis:

  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Squash
  • cucumbers
  • sweet peppers
  • broccoli
  • onions
  • asparagus
  • tomatoes
  • herbs
  • lettuce greens
  • spinach
  • peas
  • beans
  • zucchini
Let's look closer at this list...

Asparagus can be grown but requires at least 3 years of growing before you can the long run its far more cost effective to grow your own.  Since you won't be able to rotate a crop like asparagus, you'll need to select an area that will provide great conditions year after year for your plants.  (but its worth it!)

Tomatoes grow like crazy if you give them proper you'll want to give them lots of space in the garden!

Lettuce greens can not be stored in any conventional way (that I'm aware of), so you'll want to consider staggering your plants to maximize your growing season.  If you decide to build a cold frame you could very well have fresh picked greens from April to late November!  That's a huge savings at the grocery store and your salad will have a ridiculously low carbon food print.

Broccoli and Sweet Peppers take some time to get if you're starting from'll want to set aside a warm area in February and start your seeds in advance of planting them in the ground.  Peppers do not like cold soil, and they shouldn't be planted in the soil before the middle of you can start now by setting aside some pots and potting soil in the area you want to reserve for pre-season growing.  (Wait until February...I'll be featuring a post all about it!)

Peas and Beans can be stored throughout the you'll want to stock up on Ziploc bags when the back to school sales are on!  Although this method is quite labour can rest easy knowing that almost NO fossil fuels were used in getting these green delights to your table.  Yes, the frozen varieties in the freezer department are pretty cheap...but they can come from far away...meaning the carbon footprint on your peas could be as big as your CAR!  

Every year our family gets adventurous and tries out at least 1 hybrid and 1 new vegetable.  Last year we tried out purple tomatoes and eggplants.  I love experimenting this way, since all you really lose is the cost of the seeds or plant.  If you decide you don't like that never have to grow it again...but you just may LOVE it!   

Another method of selecting your veggies would be to take a look in your favorite cookbook.  Copy or dog-ear the pages of recipes you'd like to try and see if there are any veggies you can grow in your garden.  I did the reverse this past year....we grew eggplants and aside from grilling them, I had no idea what to DO with them!  I poured over cookbooks and web sites...only to find that I was without some ingredients and often the eggplant wasn't so fresh by the time I went to make the dish.  This year I will have a plan!  I have already set aside tomato, zucchini and eggplant when the glorious time comes...I'll be ready willing and able to make these delicious dishes! 

Another reason for planning ahead, is if you order your seeds from a catalogue.  You'll want to make sure you know what you want, prior to that you receive the seeds in time!  (see what I said about sweet peppers above)

Check back for further posts about planning...

And a contest coming this January!!! 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Carrot Cake is actually good for you?

So forgetting the fact that my recipe contains 1 whole cup of refined white sugar....and nevermind that I like my carrot cake to have a 50% ratio of cake to icing content...I am convinced that carrot cake is good for you!

Allow me please to elaborate...

I recently ran into an article on and it reported that we should definitely increase our intake of certain spices.  So I did some research on my own regarding the spices included in my favorite dessert. 

Nutmeg:  increases blood circulation and stimulates nerve cells, eases digestion
Cinnamon: one of the world's oldest spices, used for regulating blood sugar levels, very high in antioxidant qualities
Cloves:  stimulates the throat chakra (in Ayurvedic medicine), strengthens the thyroid gland.
Allspice: relieves indigestion and gas

Although not a spice, I include walnuts in my cake...partly because of the protein...but also because:

Walnuts: are one of the only plant based sources of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, cleanses the liver.

To top it all off, I used the last of this year's carrots from our garden...adding the the healthful, natural feel to this cake.

I was actually amazed that carrots can be stored in a root cellar, in wet sand, for most of the winter!  I discovered that nugget of information whilst reading my favorite gardening book "The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook" by Cam Mather.  He has a root cellar and has been root cellaring for a few years now.  I am facinated by the idea of storing food without using hydro electricity!  It is my intent to try a root cellar experiment next year...but that would involve cleaning a section of the basement...which is a bigger task that you'd think!

So I'll include my dreamy carrot cake recipe that I am borrowing from the quintessential "Joy of Cooking" cookbook.  Including the cream cheese frosting recipe...merry christmas!

Carrot Cake

preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 12 x 9 inch pan.

I do everything in the food begin by adding:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

blend until mixed thoroughly

add 3/4 cup of vegetable oil
3 large eggs

blend thoroughly

add 1 1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup golden raisins
handful of walnut pieces

blend slightly until ingredients are mixed throughout

scrape into greased pan and bake for 30-35 min

allow to cool on stovetop and then you can prepare icing

Cream Cheese Icing

Again using the food processor, add 8 oz cream cheese (cold), 2 cups of icing sugar and 5 tbsp room temp butter or marg. 
This recipe calls for 2 tsp of vanilla, but I use about 2 TBSPs of vanilla....i do love my vanilla!
Blend above ingredients and spread on cake.


Monday, December 6, 2010

The Great Dandelion Coffee Experiment...

My husband and I are great for trying anything....especially when it comes to cooking and gardening!

My son Noah always called them wishing flowers...he always hated it when we mowed the lawn....bye bye wishing flowers!  Lawn maintenance aside, we all know how much people have grown to dislike the lowly little yellow flower. 
Wishing flowers in action!

This summer I was fortunate enough to get a hold of a copy of Susanna Moodie's novel "Roughing it in the Bush".  This woman wrote of her own experiences in the first hand regarding the settling of the Cobourg/Douro area of Hastings County (Peterborough for the sake of argument).  One of the best statements made in the book was "Necessity has truly been termed the mother of invention".  This became my mantra during my unemployment of the past year.

During the winter of 1835, a particularly scarce and difficult year, Mrs Moodie discovered that dandelion roots provided a better coffee than could be found in stores.  Now that was in the 1800's, prior to international trading on a large scale.  Juan Valdez's coveted beans were probably not in the store Mrs Moodie was shopping in.  Her description of the discovery and the process for procuring the drink was so interesting that we HAD to give it a try.  She mentions that dandelion coffee has the opposite effect of coffee beans, allowing the drinker to be calmer and more apt to sleep.

While digging up our parsnips, we were able to find a few dandelions that had survived in the warm fall weather this year.  The long, slender taproots are very similar to parsnips.  They were also all about 5-6 inches long.  We cleaned the taproots gently, as Susanna suggests, so we didn't scrub off the delicate brown skin that gives the drink the flavour.  Once cleaned, we laid the roots out to dry for 2 weeks in a warm spot on our counter top.  We then attempted the roasting.  There were no instructions in Mrs Moodie's book about the she was roasting over a wood stove.  After having roasted our roots on 200 degrees F for about an hour, we ground the roots and straight into the coffee percolator.  Ches brewed the drink twice just in case.  Again, Mrs Moodie talked about brewing the drink on the wood stove until it was thick and dark like the coffee beverage, so we were trying to get that same consistency. 

Result:  If you've ever had the Celestial Seasonings "Sleepytime" Tea, you'll know what flavour to expect from your Dandelion Coffee.  It was very aromatic and floral. 

Things we learned:  Perhaps the next time we try this we'll skip the coffee pot and try the stove for the brewing.  Also, we have since discovered, in other resources, that the roasting should be done for 4 hours instead of one.  Note to self for the next trial!

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Gayle, who loaned me the book in the first place, as well as Mrs Susanna Moodie herself for writing about her adventures, trials and tribulations as a testiment to the Canadian spirit.

Susanna Moodie 1803-1885

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maple Syrup and the Winter Blues...

Its around this time of year that I generally think about maple syrup.  Its not tapping season, its not the pancake breakfasts that happen throughout the summer here in Verona....its the time of year that the real stuff gets very scarce!  If you consider its the farthest time of the year since the tapping last kinda makes sense. 

We love us some maple syrup in our house....and not just because of the home made pancakes that get served under them!  (although they are a huge plus!)

From my days with the tree trimming crew in Oshawa Hydro, I remember Stan Turk telling me all about the types of trees out there.  He'd give me a daily quiz on tree species, that was when I found out that sugar maples are in fact the only maple that actually produces the sap to create the wonderful syrup. 

When I first moved to the country, I made an effort to buy locally and support the folks I shared a community with.  The first time I tried to purchase maple syrup I was asked what kind I wanted.....I was like a deer in the head lights....what kind?  The syrup-y kind, of course!

Here's a run-down on the types available if you know where to buy:

Light:  Pale golden, with a delicate flavour, almost watery in texture
Medium: Light amber, rich but mild in flavour
Amber:  Medium amber, with a robust flavour
Dark: Dark amber and very strong in flavour, very sticky and syrupy

My personal favorite is the Medium but it seems like its the favorite of everyone else in South Frontenac as it sells out the quickest.  Its the best of both get a light syrup with a very pleasing flavour.  It doesn't hit you over the head with sweetness.  Each person I've spoken with at the farmer's market over the years has their favorite eating syrup and their best syrup for cooking.

It was very recently that I've been discovering the nutritional properties of the real maple syrup!  What a bonus!

Maple Syrup50 cal/15 ml
Fructose46 cal/15 ml
Brown Sugar51 cal/15 ml
Corn Syrup60 cal/15 ml
Honey64 cal/15 ml
Not too shabby!

When you compare with other sweeteners, its hands down a great natural alternative to refined sugars. 

Add this information with the following stats and your natural conclusion might be to start adding maple syrup to everything!

Maple Syrup has about the same 50 cal/tbsp as white cane sugar. However, it also contains significant amounts of potassium (35 mg/tbsp), calcium (21 mg/tbsp), small amounts of iron and phosphorus, and trace amounts of B-vitamins. Its sodium content is a low 2 mg/tbsp.

Maple syrup can be declared a good source of 3 essential elements - calcium, iron and thiamin.

( source: )

Maple syrup still contains 43 grams of carbs per 50ml serving, so don't go crazy if you are counting carbs or a diabetic.

Here is a great recipe for the pancake lover in you.  Its packed with hidden proteins so its actually the pancake that is GOOD for you!!!


Quinoa Pancakes

1 cup cooked quinoa
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon course salt
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus more for skillet
1/4 cup lowfat milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
fresh fruit or fruit preserves (optional) for serving
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together quinoa, flour, baking powder, and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk together egg, egg white, butter, milk, and syrup until smooth. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and whisk to combine.
  2. Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet or griddle with butter and heat over medium-high. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into skillet. Cook until bubbles appear on top, 2 minutes. Flip cakes and cook until golden brown on underside, 2 minutes. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with more melted butter and remaining batter (reduce heat to medium if overbrowning). Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit or preserves if desired.
Makes about 12.

One cake

Total Fat (g)

Carbs (g)

Fiber (g)

Sugar (g)

Protein (g)

( source: )

I have more maple syrup recipes...but you'll just have to wait until spring time for those yummy treasures!

Until next time....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Moose Stew

One of the things I've come to enjoy around this part of the country is hunting season.  Its not because I actually go hunting...or because my husband disappears to go hunting for weeks at a time.  Its actually because everyone we know who goes hunting usually has a wife who hates cooking game meat!  They usually wait a few months after hunting season is over and ask us if we'd take this meat away so they can have their freezer back. We win!  Not only is it free meat, but its lean and healthy too.  Wild animals aren't maintained the way that livestock is cared for, which can be good and bad. 

Good points:  no steriods or hormones were ever administered
Bad points:  you have really no idea where this animal has been getting its food or drinking water OR how much road salt its been licking up over the years.

At any rate, I like introducing wild meat to my kids.  It is a different flavour altogether and its nothing like they serve at fast food restaurants which has got to be a good thing.

Every time I eat wild meat I feel more like a pioneer than a consumer.  Living in the country, it just makes me feel like we live off of the land more...even if its not actually us doing the hunting.

I made Moose Stew the other night and this is how it goes:

Moose stew for you!

Rinse the meat really well once it has defrosted.  This method helps the meat lose some of the gamey flavour and any residue the meat may have.  (especially if you don't know who did the butchering)

Marinate the meat chunks in water and salt and pepper (or beef stock or wild game seasonings) overnight.  Discard water after.

Simmer meat on low in some liquid (stock or seasonings).  I used beef stock, less than a 1/2 cup per 2 lbs. (discard liquid after)

In a separate pot, simmer onions, carrots (from our garden) and potatoes. 

Add meat, more stock or seasonings, as well as 1/2 cup of  barley and simmer some more.

Towards the end of the simmering, I added frozen peas and beans from our garden that we froze and blanch devereaux'ed.  Its at this time you can add more stock if the barley has absorbed too much of the liquid.  I made the mistake of adding much more than I should have and decided to add some corn starch mixed in 1/2 cup of milk to thicken it up...but i should have just let the stew boil off.  That's why in the picture above the stew seems a little creamier than a stew normally is....

I also would have added some celery if we had any, but it still turned out nicely!  Not bad for not following a recipe....

I topped off this dish with garlic parmesan biscuits.....mmmmmmm.....

Now this is a thick and hearty meal from the Canadian wilds! 

I truly enjoy living where I live.  I especially love learning about the edible things in my look forward to future posts about eating locally, foraging for goodies, and eating a true Canadian diet. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tomato Basil Soup from Scratch

Here is another edition of Freezer Food!

So Campbell's Soup sells tomato soup for $0.75 these days...and although I can't compete with that pirce...I can feel good knowing that I can control the amount of sodium and sugar in my family's food as well as making a meal that has virtually no carbon footprint!  If we had a wood stove, this recipe would have an even smaller foodprint. 

For storage, we take our best tomatoes and cut a cross in the bottom skin (instead of peeling them fresh).  Add them to a large freezer bag and there you go!  Another storage trick I thought I'd try this year was from the Mathers.  Pick fresh basil place in  a food processor.  Add garlic too.  Now add a 1/2 cup to a small freezer bag and press thin.  Freeze.  Now when you want to add basil and garlic to a meal, you just snap off what you want.  Easy!

Read below for my step by step tomato soup from scratch recipe!

We pulled out the frozen tomatoes at around 10am.
We let them simmer, covered, on very low for a long time. 
After the tomatoes have turned to mush, you can add the frozen basil garlic combo and desired salt.  I also added a pinch of white sugar to combat a bit of the bitterness from our tomatoes.
Press soup through a strainer to get rid of excess seeds and skin.
Parmesan cheese is a suggested topping.

I served them with home made biscuits.  (the heart shape is optional....but fun!  Can't you feel the love?)

Ready for lunch!

left: basil garlic frozen in baggie, middle: home made biscuits, right: mater soup!

Eat yer Parsnips!

This is the perfect time of year for parsnips!  I know, I know...parsnips?  Seriously?

I never used to like parsnips...perhaps that was from being force fed the poor roots as a child.  Last year I got a Canadian Gardening issue with an article about growing parsnips and leaving them in the ground after the frost.  As the article suggested, they transformed into a different vegetable altogether. 

digging in the garden for the the last crop of the year....PARSNIPS!

My husband and I were up for an most of our gardening has consisted of trial and error guess work.  We purchased the seeds and last year we grew our first crop of parsnips.  We Planted them during the May 24th weekend and left them alone basically until after the first major frost. (ie.  after the first morning we had to scrape the car windows off.)

The result:  amazingly sweet root veggies!  The parsnip has a mild nutty flavour, but they do lack in colour on the plate.  We have tried cooking the parsnip in a variety of ways.  For example, we boiled them and we roasted them.  I sauted them with oil and walnuts and garlic.  I finally decided the best way to eat a parsnip is to sneak it in.  I've hidden the savoury roots in sheppard's pie and squash soup. 

My favorite way to prepare the parsnip (by far) is in my roasted root vegetable dish.  Its made up of sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, parsnips and a coarsely chopped onion.  Toss in oil and a pinch of kosher salt.  Roast at 400 degrees F uncovered for approx 30 min.  Check them half way through and toss, adding more salt if desired.

For storage you can do one of two methods.  Freezing or root cellaring.  A root cellar is something I deperately want to try.  Given the right conditions, I'm told, a parsnip can last in a root cellar until next spring!  The idea of storing food without using any fossil fuels is something I could really become fanatical about (especially after our last hydro bill!!!)

We dig up the parsnip by digging out the area next to the roots and working our way inward.  The parsnip root gets VERY deep, so you don't want to shove your shovel through the mid-section of the vegetable.  we knock off as much soil in the garden, and then again at the outside hose.  I scrub them off in the kitchen sink with the potato scrubber and then to the cutting board!  Peel and chop the root.  I have found that the larger the shunks are, the better for year round roasting.  Last year we chopped some smaller to slip into sheppard's pie....but the result was that they hardened when cooked.  Fill a large freezer bag 1/3 full.  Then flatten out and freeze.  You can add more later on, once the new ones are frozen too....but this method allows for freezer separation....instead of one massive clump of frozen parsnip. 


Monday, November 15, 2010

Prepping the Ground pt 3

Prepping the Ground pt 3

I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing the Mathers.  Cam and Michelle are truly inspirational when it comes to all things gardening.  They have a combined gardening knowledge that astounds.  It is because of them that our garden this year was exceptional and far less trial and error.

Last May, I was able to attend a seminar that Cam was hosting at Burt's Greenhouses in Odessa.  It was a fantastic overview on how to start, maintain and relish your garden.  Cam is a garden fanatic of sorts and his enthusiasm is contagious.  He also happened to have his new book available after the seminar.  Lucky me I was able to snag one...but if you have someone who's a gardener on your Christmas list...feel free to pick one or two of them up here:

It is without a doubt the only gardening book I've ever read cover to cover....its that readable!


Now, about that manure.  It is in the aforementioned book that I discovered the true value of manure.  We are finally at a point in our lives (my husband and I) that we were able to grow asparagus.  It takes about 3 years before you can  harvest the asparagus after its planted.  A very kindly neighbour of ours (Thanks again Mrs Goodberry!) showed up one afternoon with a basket full of new asparagus seedlings.  I had no idea how to grow asparagus.  My family had been through 4 years of moving once a year.  The garden selections were strickly annuals.   

It was in Cam Mather's book that I discovered that you have to "do your part" as he says.  Yes, asparagus is the gift that keeps on giving, but you should assist it when you can.  Manure is the best way to boost your it has been traditionally grown in it for centuries.

The absolute best time of year to buy manure (unless you are in a rural area and can get some from nearby farms) is late summer or fall.  Garden centers will be wanting to get rid of this garden gold.  We picked up the stack shown above for only $1.99 a bag.  How's that for 'small purse'?  We choose a mix of sheep and cow.  There's no real reason, mind you, just personal preference.  If we had chickens at the house, my husband would skip buying manure and just shovel out the coop. 

Reading Cam Mather's book, I learned that you add manure in the spring to give the plant roots plenty of minerals and nitrogen to grow.  The result?  A very tall hedge of asparagus.  The lesson learned?  I wouldn't have planted the asparagus on the side that blocks all of the morning sun...but I was thrilled that the manure had such an effect!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cornmeal and Jalapeno Bass with French Fries and Beans

I've loved growing things for quite a few years now...but I've discovered that growing a thing is only half of the challenge.  What do you do with that thing after its grown???  Well, you eat it obviously...but its the eating of things that I've always had problems with.  I never liked cooking...I avoided the kitchen like it was a torture chamber.  I suppose that's one of the reasons why I married a chef.  This past summer, I spent a lot of time at home with my 3 yr old son Owen, while my husband desperately worked 3 jobs to keep us paying those bills.  I had plenty of time (and not much money) to consider what was going to be on the table when dinner time came along.

So this is the introduction to the other portion of this blog...what do you do with these things once you've grown them!?!?! 

There will be future posts in which I will discuss my new found obsession with eating locally, the 100 ft challenge and other things of this nature, but mainly we were quite broke and I needed to discover a way to make delicious meals with everything we grew in our garden.  I guess on some level it was a way to become as self-sufficient as possible on the budget we were attempting to live on.

Last night we started the freezer eat-out....well that's what I like to call it....simply put...we freeze most of the things that come out of the garden...and at some point we have to start eating it before it gets freezer burnt!  The garden has been almost completely the thought of going to the grocery store now is actually painful for me to think about.  We have subsisted for several months now mainly on garden I dipped into the freezer for an outstanding meal! 

cornmeal jalapeno bass with french fries and green and yellow beans
Here is the dinner fare for last night...I'll break it down for you:

Cornmeal Jalapeno Bass
Bass caught on Holleford lake (less that 15 min from our house) which equals a very small carbon footprint!
cornmeal bought at the bulk barn
Jalapenos grown in our garden

standard flour/egg wash/cornmeal dip in that order
diced jalapenos (seeds removed because I'm a spicy wussy) added in the cornmeal dish

fried then baked for 10 min each

This is where I get to explain what I started this blog about.  We grow jalapenos every year.  This year we ended up with 15 jalapeno plants that seemed to yield about a basket EACH!  But here comes the problem I face.  No one in our family eats these things...but my husband.  So how do you prepare and serve something that no one eats?  Why do we grow these things?  These are questions I began to ask myself during this past summer's unemployment.  I rose to the challenge of finding something to do with these little fellas.  I scoured cook books and magazines.  I trolled the internet on sites like and  Eventually this fish recipe came from my huband wanting to make cornmeal jalapeno pancakes for the kids and I one weekend.  (i have no idea where he got that recipe...but he's a cook so it could have been from anywhere)

I love the crunch that cornmeal brings to the fish...which we normally fix up with breadcrumbs we make.  Evena  spicy wussy like myself was loving this recipe.  The peppers gave a hint of heat...but not too much.  The flavour of the pepper was able to be tasted without the taste buds getting burnt off.  I will definitely try this recipe again! 

French Fries
We didn't grown potatoes this year, but we do subscribe to a local "good food box" program.  You pay the month earlier and each month you get a blue bin sized box full of fresh, mostly local, often seasonal veggies all for $15.
I hand cut my taters for french fries as I feel like its a more nutritious solution to store bought freezer fries.  Hand cutting fries is a major time consuming endeavour...that's pretty much the only downside...but I'm unemployed with all kinds of time to cut fries...haha...
I toss them in sunflower or canola oil and kosher salt, then bake them at 425 degrees C on a stone.  about 25 min does the trick.

Green and Yellow Beans
We grew three colours of beans this, yellow wax and purple.  We discovered that when you cook the purple beans...they turn green again!  So purple is purely for fresh veggie platters...
When the beans are ready to pick, I usually pick them every few days.  Each day I bring them inside, wash and pat dry.  Then I get a pot of water boiling for the blanching process.  I'm very new to this the first year we froze beans, I didn't bother.  The result was awful tasting...and almost turned my step son off beans altogether (and he'll eat almost anything!)  I now blanche my beans as we pick them...if we aren't goingt to eat them right away.  They freeze wonderfully and I love seeing the bright summer colours on my plate when the weather turns cold.  Like an extra boost of vitamins!  When freezing beans, I fill the large freezer bag about 1/4 full...then press out the air and press the bag flat.  I freeze them flat, then after I have a couple of flat frozen bags, I'll empty them into one bag for storage.  It may seem like a bit of work...but its way easier than using a pick axe to separate the block of beans you'd have if you just filled a bag to the brim with fresh, unfrozen beans.  (we've had to do that too....learning from experience is fun!)

NOT SHOWN:  Home made quick n dirty tartar sauce...
-sweet relish
-dill from our garden
-lemon juice
-salt n pepper to taste
-optional:  capers diced

SIDE NOTE:  we served the kids the cornmeal bass...but added the jalapenos for the filets that my husband and I ate.  When my 3 yr old Owen decides he's had enough beans, we always remind him to eat them all up...saying the green ones give him Hulk power and the yellow ones are Wolverine power.  Don't ask me why, but if you give cool names to veggies, your kids will have no problem wolfing them down...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prepping the ground pt 2


So on the last post I showed you how we add leaves to our compost and gardens to add lightness to the soil...which the plants love as they have loads of nooks and crannies to grow huge root systems. 

Now its time to talk about other ways in which you can help keep the nutrients in your soil.  We actually add soil directly into our soil....does that even make sense?  Ok, I'll illustrate...

top left: planter soil, top right: end of the season plants, bottom: more leavings
Planter Soil
We have a lot of planters around...we use them for herbs and cherry tomato plants, but we also have a lot of houseplants.  Sadly, our houseplants do very well all summer long on the back porch, but they barely survive indoors in the winter time.  Between the lack of direct sunlight on a lot of our windows and our menacing cat called Buster...they don't stand a chance.  Usually I need to make tough decisions in the fall.  Which plants will I save and which will I use for compost?  Once I've decided...I dump the soil from the planters directly on our garden patch (as shown in the top left hand picture)

End of Season/Leavings
Once the plants in your garden are spent (meaning not giving you glorious fruit or veggies any more) then you can leave the stalks and leaves right in your garden!  We pull ours up to speed up the decomposition process.  Pull and leave then directly on your garden patch.  Easy!  (as shown on the top right hand picture)

The bottom picture shows our main garden patch with the leaves from our parsnip plants.  It this time of year that everything else is spent in our garden, but we still have parsnips to dig up!  We wait for the first few frosts, then dig them up for the best flavour. 

Since we use a roto-tiller in the spring time, there is no reason why the composter must do all of the work with the heavy parts of plants.  The stalks are tough to break we let the winter and the tiller do the work for us.  Keeping in mind that the plant parts themselves must be free of parasites and other harmful things...if they do we burn them in our burning bin...(I like to play it safe, but this is overkill....and if you have an urban garden, this may not be allowed).  Healthy plants parts still contain nutrients that will break down over time and again leaving room for the roots of next years plants to grow strong.

Next post:  MANURE! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Prepping the ground...

This time of year can be kind of depressing for gardeners...most of the crops are either harvested or dying.  The garden itself is a barren version of the lush, vibrant area you tended so lovingly all summer long. 

It may not be the prettiest thing in the world, but there is no shortage of things to do!  Preparing the soil for next year is just as important as the planning and planting you'll do in the spring.  So here is a pictorial post on the kinds of things we do to stimulate the soil right now.


I'll talk about our composting efforts in a subsequent post, but for right now I'll discuss our leaf situation.  As we live on a fairly tree-less lot in the country, we have had difficulty in getting our soil light and airy.  We keep garbage bags in the trunk of our cars in case we happen upon a stash of leaves.  We'll bring them home and add the leaves to our compost bins (of which we have 3 now).  The nice thing about the garden being empty is that you can just dump the leaves right on the garden plot!

(dumping leaves and grass cuttings directly on our patch)   
We do have some trees on our property, but luckily we have neighbours and sons.  The neighbours have the trees and they love that our sons will go and rake away those pesky fall leaves for free!  Its also hilarious to see the two boys operate the wheelbarrow and make the biggest pile they can...for jumping of course!  After the leaves have lost their jumping value...we mulch them with our lawn mower and add to compost bins or directly on the garden patch....depending on how soggy the leaves are.

my 3 yr old son Owen and our 'borrowed' leaf pile
We scavenge leaves from nearby neighbours (because we don't own a truck and because kids running through the whole town with wheelbarrows is funny) and vacant lots.  We live next door to a mechanic shop with a large parking lot lined with we clean up the town and also fill our composters too!  Its a win/win situation.  If you live in a city, the leaves are so conveniently left out at the curb on 'leaf day' for pick up from the city waste services...but why not help yourself?  Our family has often caught a neighbour filling those paper bags with their leaves...we ask nicely, take the leaves and return with the paper bags (because they aren't cheap!) AND its neighbourly!

If you start to look around, you'll start to see a leaf opportunity EVERYWHERE!

My only problem with the endless trail of them entering my house...on little shoes...

Next post:  Soil sources for your garden...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

From Generations Past...

Before I truly begin my rantings about our garden...I'd like to take this opportunity to expand a little.

There are so many books and articles about gardening, but at its roots is the basic, fundamental desire to provide sustanance for yourself and others who depend on you.  This is not a new phenomenon.  It has been going on since people set their homes in one place. 

Looking back only a few short generations, you'll see just how differently people lived.  Folks didn't have how did they know their garden crop would feed their family for an entire year?  It was trial and error.  Hope for the best.  Plant more than you need...just in case.  Their garden plant choices were based on what was the most economical, what was the most nutritious and what would store the longest. 

  My great grandmother Annie Hall and her daughter Irene (mid 1940's) 

Its strange to think that a lot of that knowledge of past generations is all but lost due to our ever growing dependance on MEGA stores for our food intake.  We now know less about food production and have to trust in documentaries like Food Inc and Super Size Me to hear all the gory stories.  Why not skip the horror and walk out to your own veritable grocery that only stocks what you like! 

Its a sense of independance that the Foodland's and the Metro's of the world do NOT want you to know.

In future posts, I will come back to this idea of food independance...because it relates to my pioneer fetish...yes I said it. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

In The Beginning...

So this is my very first blog entry...prepare to be amazed!
Ok, well not amazed...but quite possibly amused!

I have never blogged about anything in my life...but as my facebook gardening album will attest...I am a rambler.

ESPECIALLY about gardening!

I love gardening.  It has a zen quality about it.  I can even forget that my sons are having a waterfight within feet of my garden, if I'm deep in a weeding trance.

I have loved growing things since my early 20's...but now that I am married, with two sons and all the trappings of adulthood (mortgage and debt), I find gardening less of a hobby and more of a necessity.

My youngest son Owen eats tomatoes like apples...he loves tomatoes so much I'd swear he's about 95% lycopene and he's only 3 yrs old.  At one point I was spending, on average, $5-7 dollars a week...just on TOMATOES!  Mind you, thats winter-in-Canada prices...for the prized fruit of some other country.

In this day and age, I'm surprised I don't find more people who garden...but times being what they are...and peoples schedules being what they are...I can see why gardening is just another thing that needs to fit into your life.

Personally, I find that gardening IS life.  Its live or die attitude is a lot like life.  You can work your hardest and take all the time and care in the world...and your garden (like life) will turn out how it likes...rather than how you planned it.

So thats my bit for my first entry.

Stay tuned...we're busy prepping our garden for the winter time...