This TED talk by Pam Warhurst, from Todmorden in England, is full of deep common sense, something I think we are sorely lacking today. She is saying things that we’ve been thinking, but haven’t acted on. She’s given me a bit of a kick in the butt to look beyond what we are doing for ourselves.
Tag Archives: Growing food
It’s been a little over a month since we closed down the better part of our warm weather garden, although at the time of writing several kale and chard plants in my small front bed are still going strong and happily resisting the frosts at night. Along with ridiculous amounts of parsley that I must harvest; I really don’t know how we came to grow so much parsley!
At the very end of September / beginning of October when it was time to deal with the tomatoes, I picked as many as wanted to come off the vine and ended up with several large bowlsful that came directly into the kitchen. One-third of that went straight into the batch of Green Tomato and Apple chutney that I made and canned (so good), and two-thirds were consumed as part of lunches and suppers, as needed. Sometimes fresh as a garnish or addition to a meal, other times cooked as part of the main event, like pizza sauce or chili. There remained on the tomato plants a number of tomatoes too green to be picked, so I cut those plants down to ground level and simply brought them into our cold storage room where I placed them on the floor on a sheet where they have continued to ripen. I’d got this advice from several different corners and it certainly works. Nothing beats the living warmth and flavours of a tomato right off the vine, but slow ripening in a dark room after the season has ended still beats anything from the grocery store.
This year in the garden was really a test – could we garden on clay, and we liked the result we got, documented here. Having satisfied ourselves that we could do this reasonably well and keep the deer out, the only thing left to do is expand by quite a lot the size of our beds. We fed ourselves from our garden quite decently this year, had enough tomatoes for a small amount of canning, and enough surplus to share some of the bounty with family and friends, which is all good. But there are more vegetables that we’d like to grow that we simply didn’t have room for and we want to increase volume by a lot for certain crops (eg tomatoes – next year I want to be able to can a lot of tomato sauce and chutney).
As part of clearing out the larger bed behind the house earlier this fall we also started the process of expanding it. We’re essentially taking a rectangular bed that nestled at the back corner (south facing) of our house and pulling it out and around the corner of the house. We’ve watched the progress and intensity of the sun in this space quite a lot and think it’s a good decision to expand in this location. The final bed will be between three and four times its original size and will build on some kind of terracing as it generally slopes up as it moves toward the front of the house. Unless on my return home today I find out that dam working is continuing, I’m expecting that we’ll be tilling the ground for the rest of this expanded bed.
I’ve got to get my head firmly back into garden for a bit after taking a break this past month; I started a new batch of greens that do well in cool to cold weather – arugula, radicchio, lettuce, chard and kale – in small pots in a sunny window in our mudroom earlier this fall and these are ready to go into the ground and spread their roots. I can’t do this until we have a mini greenhouse or other row cover solution sorted out and I’m starting to feel a little panicked, but we’ll sort something out. This is the first time that I’ve ever started a crop in the fall, so I need to get my skates on. We haven’t been able to find a large-ish (20 x 12 feet) coldhouse that we like enough and can afford yet, so growing on a larger scale this winter seems unlikely (we really need to know for sure one way or the other this week), but if we just have a go with the greens I’ll be happy as we will have tackled something new.
I also need to get my herbs moving again indoors; sadly I let the super happy and productive basil plant that spent the summer in our screened in porch die and I’ll have to start again with basil from seed. That’ll teach me.
Recently we remembered to pick some wild mint from the banks of our stream and have a batch drying for tea.
My ambitions for next year in summary:
- lots more tomatoes and some major canning
- more carrots
- more green beans and runner beans and a plan to freeze a number of batches
- less kale, more chard
- add zucchini/courgette to the list
- master growing some kind of squash (likely butternut for a cold storage staple): squash did not do well in our garden this year
- cukes (the other crop that did not do well this year) and making pickles (that’s my husband’s job)
- add leeks
- add potatoes
- small batch of broccoli (I grew two beautiful heads of broccoli in my city garden a few years ago but lost both – their heads were mysteriously broken off just as they were nearly ready)
- have a better plan for harvesting/using hot peppers
- beef up growth of sweet peppers
- try a different variety of spinach
- APPLE TREE PRUNING AND CARE
- apple cider making (again, something my husband is really wanting to do)
- make apple marmalade again, but triple the batch size!
- add at least one other preserve to the list
I’m going to coast on last weekend’s accomplishments as I need to get caught up. After my first successful batch of preserving green tomato and apple chutney, I was really fired up. The mystery taken out of the canning process for me, finally, I kept going on Monday night and whipped up a batch of apple marmalade, which is absolutely lovely. I have to say I was knackered by the end of Monday night, having spent two consecutive days doing a lot of standing and tending in the kitchen, but it was worth it. And that second batch was a doddle compared to the first, thanks to the demystifying, which was entirely down to Mary Ann Dragan’s Well Preserved: Small Batch Preserving for the New Cook.
How gorgeous is this?
Dragan’s excellent instructions even resulted in the perfect “gel” stage my first time attempting marmalade!
My one quibble with Dragan’s book is that she tends to refer the reader/cook back to the canning instructions included by the manufacturer of the jars, but my new jars came without any such instructions. I see now that the manufacturer, Bernardin, has great info on their website, but there was nothing in, on or around the box! Anyway, the info in Dragan’s book was really very good and I felt more than equipped with common sense by the time it came to deal with the jars in the process.
Since making our big move out here there have been many firsts for me, among them pastry and canning, and in both cases I had allowed fear and apprehension to keep me from trying them for years. No more fear here!
The reason for this post is really to boost my Monday morning spirits with some great shots of the delicious raspberry cream cheese coffee cake that I’ve been able to make three times this summer, but it’s also a chance to record some progress around the place on the weekend, including:
- Walking around and photographing the apple trees that we feel should get our attention first: we’re faced with the task of reclaiming an entire orchard, and I’ll post more on this over time, but suffice it to say that this will be a multi-year activity.
- Rescuing one apple tree on the property: that’s a bit of an overstatement, really. We spent about 2.5 hours cutting brush and young trees from around one of the apple trees nearest the house, clearing the way to prune the poor thing later in the season.
- Reorganizing our garage and mechanical room to make way for the coming winter’s wood for our woodstove. My clever husband devised a simple slide or ramp over the stairs that lead to our basement from our garage and it’s the best toy we’ve ever given our eight-year old. That and the dolly that he used to cart the wood from the driveway to the top of the stairs.
- Splitting and preparing a good-sized pile of kindling (no pictures; our 13 year old did a fine job here)
- A bit of garden tidying, including harvesting the last carrots and clearing out the finished stumps of lettuce
There was also laundry and housecleaning and baking and a swimming lesson for one child. But the raspberry cake. I’ve written about it before, but I’ve finally got pictures.
Now we’ve got to get back to the treehouse, which is nearly done.
Earlier this summer I wrote about the bliss of strawberry season and the joys of picking local berries on a beautiful day. Our patch of land was once home to a local berry farm (not terribly successful as an economic endeavour, from what little we know) and has close to a couple of acres of Pathfinder raspberry bushes. These are badly in need of some sustained attention, something we haven’t been able to provide just yet. Just recently, however, we discovered another type of raspberry cane growing in patches on our land.
Now, we’ve already learned that raspberries are amazingly good at ensuring their continued existence by putting out something called basal shoots or suckers which allow a new plant to emerge some distance away. We’ve become accustomed to finding single raspberry canes in odd places across our property (adding to the general thorniness of the place!). The latest raspberries plants that we came across in (yet another) overgrown, grassy part of our land, appear to be wild and are very different from the obvious rows of Pathfinder canes. They are in full fruit right now and so we are simultaneously harvesting them and making some attempt to clear the ground around the plants so that they might produce better next year (who knows?).
Our first harvest about a week ago didn’t furnish us with vats of berries demanding quick conversion into jam, but it was delightful to return to the house with enough berries to make the most scrumptious raspberry cream cheese coffee cake recipe, whip up a raspberry fool (our youngest loves to make any kind of berry ‘fool’, which for him is vanilla yogurt and smushed berries lovingly combined), and sprinkle generously on oatmeal at breakfast the next day. I’m planning to spend an hour picking tomorrow so that I can make that raspberry cake again – it was so good!
On a walk out today to rescue an old abandoned porcelain sink from the woods on our property (there are several “junk heaps” around the place that have yielded great opportunities for recycling), my husband and I stopped to inspect another long neglected area – the apple orchard. We knew that there was a mix of crab apple, eating and cooking apples out there, but this is the first chance we’ve had to really start to get to grips with the varieties on our doorstep. We were extremely pleasanty surprised to take a bite out of one sample that is clearly a Macintosh (not quite ready, but nearly there), and sampled other varieties that we are simply not familiar with.
Earlier this summer we made a tiny dent in the huge task of cutting down the brush and small trees that are choking the apple trees, and we vowed to do as much as we can this fall to reclaim the orchard. The apple is such an amazing food when it comes to storage possibilities and I wish we could have started this job last year, but, well, this is where we are and that’s where we need to start from. Visiting friends and family will be greeted with clippers and small saws after today…
So, when I wrote my last post, I completely neglected to mention one of our new crops this year: Red Malabar spinach. We’ve successfully grown four plants (two in the front, two in back) this year, but it took me a while to realize that this would provide one of my “Duh!” moments in gardening this year. It’s a fast growing vine – not mentioned on the seed packet and I obviously didn’t research this one before planting it. I was wondering if it had bolted, and then thought I’d better do a bit more investigation.
At least I’ve now found a use for the bamboo stakes that I did NOT need to install for two of the three types of green beans that we planted (again, one of the three is a climber, so we merrily put stakes in for all three, without evening thinking). One of my other “Duh!” moments…
At any rate, Red Malabar spinach is a happy discovery for me this year. It’s astoundingly pretty and very tasty to boot. The leaves did marvellously well as a late addition in a lentil soup and benefitted from not being cooked for very long. Definitely one that I’ll be experimenting with over the next few weeks.
I’m still getting used to having a rural mailbox and what will and won’t fit inside. Today I was very pleasantly surprised to see a small cube-shaped cardboard box lurking at the back of the mailbox, along with a small padded envelope. Our seeds have arrived!
The Cottage Gardener in Newtonville, Ontario isn’t our only seed supplier, but they are definitely one of our preferred suppliers. With wonderful organic and heirloom seeds and a fantastically descriptive catalogue, it’s always a pleasure making our selections. We couldn’t find everything that we needed from this supplier (celery and tah tsoi seeds between two examples that I sourced from Greta’s Organic Gardens in Gloucester), but I like spreading our business around anyway. We do also save seeds and there is a wonderful book on how to save seeds from Seeds of Diversity that I highly recommend.
Our next step will be updating our garden spreadsheet with our newest purchases.
Tomorrow is Seedy Saturday at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre at Britannia Bay. What a wonderful event. I’m so pleased to have two boys who think it’s thrilling to go and trawl through all of the organic seed offerings and other garden related items.
This year our older son will be camping with his Scout troupe and the weather isn’t looking so good for a trip into Ottawa for us, but we’ll see what tomorrow brings. It’s not critical for us to attend this year, as we’ve already met 95% of our seed needs by ordering from our favourite suppliers (most of them introduced to us at previous Seedy Saturdays, of course), but it would be fun just to have a look at everything and everyone and find something new and delightful to try to grow.
It felt like we were slow to get started, but garden planning now feels well and truly underway. We have:
- started a spreadsheet with plants, varieties, inventory, order needs, planting dates, etc.
- documented our on-hand inventory (full or partial seed packets for 47 varieties of some 20 or so plants, which surprised me)
- ordered all of the seeds that we’ll need for the spring and summer, as well as some fall/winter items*
- set up our seed trays in a sunny spot indoors, and planted out the seeds that need the longest headstart or that we just like to start early (some onions that we’ll grow from seed, leeks and some herbs)
- thanks to the recent melt which cleared the thigh-high snow from our fields, we have also started vigorous pruning of our raspberry canes (documented here, last year); we’re planning to prune one row and take all of the others back to the ground (the canes need replenishing every seven years or so)
- research on fencing (we have a lot already, but we need smaller spaces enclosed and to do a better job of keeping deer and other critters out!)
* We’re planning to grow year-round and are deep in reading and unpacking what we need to know from the Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. We’re on almost the same latitude as Coleman’s Maine farm (so we get almost identical winter sun) and share the same super cold winter temperatures (ie dips of -30 degrees celsius), so we’re very energized to think that we could grow and harvest root vegetables, lettuces and Asian greens in the coldest months of the year.
Sound crazy? You can follow it all here.
The first part of this winter has been spent – for me, at least – in getting on top of “life” and comfortably settled in our new house. It takes time and I don’t like rushing things. I knew at the back of my mind that garden planning was going to need to start happening very soon, but I couldn’t rush it. This morning I sat on the sofa with my younger son and we had a good look through one of our organic seed catalogues. He used one of the blank note pages at the back to create his “must have” list for this year.