Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

Garden Review – Best and Worst Gardening Decisions

The garden is officially done. We’ve brought in all the veggies and our pantry and freezer is packed. It’s funny how finishing a project makes you reflect on how you could have done things differently. Here are the best and worst gardening decisions we made this year.

Best decisions we made this season

– Nasturtiums. Call me old-fashioned, but these are my new favourite plant. They grow quickly from seed so there’s no need to start them early inside. There are dozens of varieties – vines, small flowers, large ones, and many different colours. They bloom all spring, summer and fall. The best thing about nasturtiums is that they keep away the pests. We have two grape vines but for some reason I only planted nasturtiums under one of the vines. The one without nasturtiums got eaten by aphids, the other vine looked great all season.

– Sunflowers. So easy and so much fun for the kids. I put them everywhere and they all grew tall and magnificent. I will plant sunflowers in our back alley next year so that I can cut the blooms and have them peek over the fence.

– Growing our cucumbers vertically. I attached the cucumber vines to a trellis this year. This saved us a great deal of space as we only needed a bed that was a foot and a half deep by five feet wide. The cucumbers grew upward and had no problems producing.

– Growing loads of tomatoes. I know that we overdid the tomatoes. And I know that I have been complaining about how long it takes to make salsa. But seriously, nothing really compares to homemade salsa and tomato sauce. The effort was so worth it.

Worst decisions we made this season

– Having no faith in the raspberries. Why, oh why did we not cut back the raspberry bush in the spring? Some plants just go crazy. The raspberries quickly got overgrown and drooped over the lawn. I’ve already cut the stalks to about two feet tall so we’re ready for the spring.

– Forgetting about the annuals. I did it again; I get so focused on the veggies that I neglect the annuals. We had some annuals, but I never get too excited about flowers. Shame on me because I know that they are good for luring bees and butterflies.

– Growing the variety of tomato called ‘hundreds and thousands’. Sure, they taste great. But because they are the size of a small berry, you can’t do anything else with them except eat them fresh. This might sound great for the first couple of weeks. But we seriously have hundreds and thousands of tiny tomatoes sitting on our counter top and we’re sooooo tired of them.

– We had the bright idea of planting all our tomatoes in pots so that we could reserve the veggie bed for root vegetables. Unfortunately, the pots didn’t have drainage holes in the bottom. With all the rain in July, I spent a great deal of time protecting the tomato plants from getting too much water. Such a foolish mistake.


Harvest Season Begins – Dilled Zucchini Anyone?

Dilled Zucchini Sticks

It’s a beautiful September week and the perfect time to focus on veggies. We’ve already been snacking on carrots and potatoes from the garden. Then there are all the tomatoes that [I thought] I over-planted in the spring. Even though we ended up with 15 plants, I’ve been thrilled to have an over-abundance of tomatoes for salads, snacking and turning into salsa. And we’ve also had pounds of cucumbers which we’ve been turning into pickles.

Then we visited the downtown farmer’s market on the weekend with some friends. Kuhlmann’s Greenhouse was selling their cauliflower for $1 and their giant zucchini for $3. (MJ weighed the zucchini when we got home and we realized that we had 11 ½ pounds of zucchini!)

Banana holding only half of the zucchini that we purchased.

Needless to say, MJ and I did a little bit of canning on the weekend. Here is a recipe for dilled zucchini.

Dilled Zucchini

Who says you can’t pickle zucchini? It makes a great pickle and easily picks up the flavour of the dill. We made the mistake of slicing the zucchini a bit too thickly. And we also should have measured better – the sticks should be cut to the size of the canning jars. We ended up having to cut sticks in half in order to fit them in the jars.

4 ½ lbs zucchini
3 tbsp pickling salt
5 cups white vinegar
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fresh dill weed, chopped
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp mustard seed
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Sprigs of dill weed

Chop zucchini into sticks and layer with pickling salt in large bowl. Let it stand for an hour.

Prepare your canning jars – place in boiling water canner (just a really big pot of water!) and let boil for 10 minutes. Set aside screw bands and lids in hot water until ready to use.

In a large pot, combine vinegar, sugar, turmeric, chopped dill, celery seed and mustard seed. Bring to a boil.

Rinse the zucchini in cold water; drain thoroughly; pat dry. Add zucchini, chopped garlic and onions to liquid and bring to a boil. Let it boil for five minutes or more.

Time to fill the jars. Place 1 large sprig of dill weed in a hot jar. Place the zucchini and onions into the hot jar and add liquid to within 1 cm of the top of the jar. Place a lid and screw band on the jar and return the jar to the canner. Repeat until all the jars are full.

Boil the jars for at least 10 minutes in the canner. Carefully remove them from the hot water so that the contents doesn’t touch the lid. Leave them to cool for 24 hours. Be sure to check that the seals have decompressed.

Show What You Grow

Photo Credit: aidswarrio on

Looking for a family activity this weekend? You might want to check out the Show What You Grow event at Fort Edmonton Park.

This event is put on by the Edmonton Horticultural Society to celebrate the end of the growing season. This is a great way to get inspired about local food and see what others grow and preserve from their own garden. This year, the show has made a special effort to demonstrate how gardening can be fun and interesting for both parents and children.

Saturday, Aug. 27 from 2:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 28 from 9:00 – 6:00 p.m.

The event is free with admission to Fort Edmonton Park. AND everyone who enters the show gets a complimentary entry to Fort Edmonton Park during the harvest festival weekend!

Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp

The Bear chopping rhubarb for the crisp.

We went to the downtown farmer’s market today and I watched people walking around with giant sticks of rhubarb. Yup, it’s rhubarb season. This ‘weed’ is probably the easiest plant to grow in an edible garden. And our little patch has given us some lovely, tender, red sticks for making yummy things like rhubarb strawberry crisp.

Here’s the recipe we used. It’s from the book, Animal Vegetable Miracle – one of my favourite books for getting in touch with the world of slow food and eating seasonly. I really like that the recipie uses honey as a sweetener. (Although I admit that I doubled the crust because, well, who doesn’t like lots of ‘crisp’ in a crisp?)

Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp

3 cups strawberries, halved
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1⁄2 cup honey

Mix together thoroughly and place in an 8”x8” ungreased pan

1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄2 cup rolled oats
1⁄2 cup brown sugar (or a bit more, to taste)
3⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp allspice
1/3 cup butter

Mix until crumbly, sprinkle over fruit mixture and bake at 350° for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden.

Slow Saturdays (or Sunday!) – Time to Grow a Veggie

Slow Saturdays is a weekly challenge related to slow parenting. The challenges are intended to break down a large project into smaller, more manageable pieces. Try it for yourself. You are, as always, encouraged to post comments. Tell us your story.

The Challenge – Inspired by last week’s post on vegetable gardening, it’s time to plant some seeds. If you’ve never grown a vegetable, this is the week to start. Pick something easy like tomatoes in a container or strawberries from a hanging basket. The challenge is to plan for an edible food this summer for your family to enjoy. If you’re a seasoned gardener, maybe this is the year to expand. For the beginners, here’s a quick overview about how to start.

Vegetable Gardening Attempt #4

The Bear helping me start seeds.

The Bear helping me start seeds.

Well, I missed the boat on posting a Slow Saturday challenge for this week. I’m going to consider this spring break and take a week off!

Instead, I’ve been thinking about gardening. The Bear and I planted our first seeds this week. And, oh joy, they have already started to sprout. Then, this past Saturday, my mother and I attended a seminar on growing tomatoes. We learned lots of new tricks and ideas (did you know that mixing cinnamon into the soil where you start your seeds will prevent damp off?) I now have six different tomato varieties sitting in warm earth on the windowsill.

But this post isn’t about the merits of gardening. I’m going to avoid a Birkenstock-inspired rant about why children should learn to grow veggies. (But if you are interested, check out this WSJ article on why 2011 should be the year of the vegetable). Nope, I’m wondering about us – the parents. How many of your/my generation learned to grow food as children?

When MJ and I moved into our house, I was intent on having a yard with easy maintenance. Gardening was what you did when you were retired. Me? I was too busy to maintain a garden. But then, to our surprise, old raspberry canes impressively took over a corner of our backyard. With absolutely zero effort, we had been given an amazing gift. These berries tasted nothing like those from the supermarket and there were LOTS of them. We couldn’t possibly eat all the raspberries and I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting them. How could I preserve them for later?

So began my learning curve with growing and preserving food. With a few more experiments, I discovered the joy in going into my backyard and eating what was growing there. But I had never been taught a thing about growing vegetables or fruit. This was never something that was part of my childhood. In the eyes of most Westerners, growing a vegetable garden isn’t a necessity; it’s merely an interesting hobby. In just a couple of generations, we’ve moved from having intimate knowledge about growing our own food and persevering it to little or no knowledge at all. It’s fine to proselytize to families about the advantages of growing food, but one needs to acknowledge that many people today don’t have a clue where to start.

Slow parenting is about slow food, and therefore growing vegetables is a reasonable fit. But then what? Consider this a call to learn a little this season. The benefits for the kids will come later. For right now, it’s about the parents gleaning some basic gardening knowledge.

In an effort, not to inspire you, but to humbly expose my learning curve, here are my personal top five ‘learning-to-garden’ disasters:

1. Starting tomato seeds at the end of January. But June, they were four feet tall. Even though they were intended as outside plants, they spent most of their life in our home awkwardly blocking our back door.
2. Growing veggies in the shade. I know, ridiculous, right? But I had never been told that they need full sun.
3. Not watering. Huh? Veggies need water? I only left them for a week, but that was enough to kill them.
4. Being excited about how well my lettuce was doing when it was three feet tall. I hadn’t yet learned the term bolting.
5. Overdoing the veggies and ignoring the role of flowers. Until I had a sudden memory of grade five science – plants need to be pollinated, so that means bees and butterflies, oh, that’s why people plant flowers with their veggies!

Edible Landscaping

I have a confession. Two years ago, I couldn’t remember the difference between an annual and a perennial. I was mocked for my gardening ambivalence. How far I’ve come.

I recently visited the Inspired Market Gardens stand at Edmonton’s downtown farmer’s market. This is a stand that I’ve passed many times without much thought. But I’ve been reading a lot of gardening books and magazines lately. I mean a lot.

“How hardy is hyssop? “Definitely for zone 2, you say?” “How exactly would you use the flowers?” “Will it spread?” “Self-seeding?” “Will it attract bees?”

There is something about growing a vegetable garden that eventually makes you look at a lawn differently. Hmmmm, you think, that’s a lot of space…. for grass?

According to the book, Front Yard Gardens by Liz Primeau, there are 24 million acres of lawn grown in North America, and this doesn’t include all the highway embankments and golf courses. She argues that lawns contribute to a monoculture. This is dangerous, of course, as it limits the insects, birds and animals that could otherwise live alongside humans. Without variety in our yards, we face a pretty grim outdoor experience.

I am now looking at our lawn in a different light. I want more variety but I am also insistent that if we spend money on plants, they must be perennial, hardy, close to native for our area, and ideally, edible.

This brought me to the website, the Urban Farmer. This is a great resource to guide and inspire how we approach the garden. We have given up on the section of grass near our spruce tree as it grows terribly anyway. With new zeal, we are planning a mini hedge of blueberry bushes. These will be flanked by the hyssop that I purchased from Inspired Gardens. I’ve also dug up our neighbour’s unwanted chives and given them a new home near our rock wall.

The other advantage to this approach to gardening is that we are, “working with nature, rather than against nature” (Urban Farmer). In the long run, it is actually less money and time.

Edible garden, here we come.

Do you want to know if your yard is environmentally sustainable? Take the Urban Farmer’s test here.

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