28 March 2008


Tulips emerging from soilNow the snow is beginning to melt we're beginning to see things growing outside, too. Here are some bulbs emerging from the soil underneath the living room window. I presume they're tulips, but at the moment they strongly remind me of the seedling stage of Audrey II, the monster plant in the 1986 film version of The Little Shop of Horrors.

Lilac budsAt the side of the house, the buds on the lilac trees are swelling. Prince Edward County is famous for its lilacs, so I'm looking forward to seeing these flower. They do need a bit of pruning, though, which I think is best done after they've flowered, so a job for late May.

27 March 2008

Spring green

Riesentraube tomato seedlingsHere's a sight to gladden a gardener's heart - the tomatoes that I sowed at the weekend germinated yesterday and are now out of the intensive care of the propagator. They're on the windowsill of the living room, which is within reach of the dog, so I'm hoping that he won't decide to investigate them too closely.

We're beginning to see the end of winter outside, too. As the photo below of the northern shore of Prince Edward County shows, the Bay of Quinte was still frozen and snowy when we came back over the Norris Whitney bridge from Belleville on Easter Monday. But yesterday afternoon when I came over the Skyway Bridge from Deseronto, there was a fair bit of water visible in the middle of the bay, which hadn't been there in the morning (well, it was there of course, but you couldn't see it!).

Snow- and ice-covered Bay of QuinteThere was no ice at all in the Bay when we came here for our reconnaissance trip last Easter, but I suppose that was two weeks later than this year's, so there's still time for it all to melt, unlikely as it seems right now.

22 March 2008

First sowing

Propagator in useI was planning to hold off on sowing any seeds until after my trip to the UK in April. Not that I don't trust Mike to take care of them (honestly!), but I just thought it might make things easier all round. Plus I didn't have any potting compost, which does rather constrain that kind of activity. And I wasn't sure if my UK-purchased propagator was going to work here.

While the kids were at their swimming lesson we did the usual mad dash round the library and supermarket in Picton, followed by a trip to a garden centre. This is a small business, comprising three or four polytunnels and a small barn which houses the shop. The shop had a sign by the till saying "We're in the greenhouse, come and find us!". This is fairly common for businesses here, which are often small family concerns run out of the owners' homes. This style of doing business took us a bit of getting used to - there isn't always an obvious 'shop front' to go to, for example.

I used to spend ages of indecision looking at all the different types of compost when I bought it from garden centres in the UK - peat free? multipurpose? sowing and cutting? brand or own brand? moisture-retaining or not? So it was quite refreshing at this establishment to be offered the choice of either a 10 litre bag or a 107 litre bale. And that was it. So I plumped for the bale (Mike was with me to carry it, luckily (or maybe not, from his point of view)).

I've just looked at the ingredients and it's 70-80% Canadian sphagnum peat moss. Cue feelings of guilt about destruction of peat bogs, followed by superficial internet research, which seems to suggest that there are an awful lot of peat bogs in Canada:
...more than 270,000,000 acres, 25% of the world's supply, of which our industry harvests on less than 40,000 acres, or one acre in 6,000.

According to the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association, anyway. They harvest the stuff, so they might be just a teensy bit biased. Not sure now whether I should be feeling guilty or not. Maybe I should make myself a hair shirt out of sphagnum moss to be on the safe side.

Anyway, we hooked the propagator up to one of the voltage regulators we had to buy to save getting all new electrical appliances, so that works fine. Now I couldn't resist starting some seeds. What did I sow, you may or may not be asking. Red tomatoes in this batch - Riesentraube (an heirloom grape-style) and Amish Paste (another heirloom plant, ideal for tomato sauces). I think of the propagator as an incubator or intensive care unit, so once they're up I'll replace them with peppers, chillies or aubergines and get a little production line going.

Golden moon

Full moon, Easter 2008Another cold and crisp night - lit by a beautiful moon. Have to admit I was tucked up in bed when Mike took this picture.

21 March 2008

Hot and cold

The hot cross buns were refusing to rise so I went for a walk with Mike, as he'd found some interesting ice formations (we had a hard frost last night after several warmish days (warmth being a relative thing, you understand)). He was right - the stream looked lovely.

Ice formations over the stream

The snow was much easier to walk on - yesterday it had the texture of slightly melted sorbet, but today it was crispy and hard. Here's Mike standing next to the footprints I'd made the day before:

Snow prints

It was so pleasant to walk on that we crossed the hayfield for the first time in months. Well, actually we'd never walked across the field diagonally before, just in the mown strip around the edges. It was cold, but beautiful.

Toby in the snowy hayfield

We'd been gone so long that the buns had grown quite significantly - allow me a small moment of domestic-goddessy pride:

20 March 2008


I've spent an enjoyable afternoon ordering my seed potatoes and checking out blogs about allotments. There are a large number of such blogs (there's even a little Google Maps mashup of where some of them are on the Allotments-UK site). I've never grown potatoes before - the picture below shows the extent of the growing area that I tended in Sale, which explains why. So I was looking for tips on potato cultivation.
Raised beds in Sale in May 2006
"Plant potatoes on Good Friday" was something that came up a lot. Well, that might be possible in the UK, but I'm blowed if I'm going to dig through the snow to do that here. I wondered if this tradition might be related to the moon phases - since Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the full moon after the Spring Equinox. But after reading up on the matter, advice about moon-planting of potatoes seems contradictory: a New York Times article from 1991 makes this point too. So maybe I won't bother waiting for a full moon and will go by the soil temperature instead!

I had no idea how many seed potatoes to order, so have probably ordered either far too many or far too few - time will tell.

18 March 2008


The temperature has crept above freezing during the day for a few days now. It's raining pretty hard this evening, too, which should help melt some more of the snow. We're starting to see insects emerging and the sparrows and starlings are certainly getting frisky. I think it's going to be a while before I'm sowing anything in the vegetable garden though - this is how it looked yesterday:

Vegetable garden under snow in March

09 March 2008

Comfort food

German Blueberry TartPudding for our Sunday lunch today was an adaptation of Nigella Lawson's recipe for German Plum Tart (from How to be a Domestic Goddess (I'm still trying)). I had some leftover white bread dough which I used for the base, then added a mixture of wild blueberries (confession: they came from a frozen food aisle, not a hedgerow) and sugar, then topped with the crumble mixture as detailed in the recipe (140g plain flour, 100g brown sugar and 110g butter (I didn't have any walnuts or pecans, so they were left out)). It looked great and went down well, although I was a bit disappointed in the blueberries - they weren't very flavourful. I think I'd like to try this with rhubarb or something else with a more tart flavour.

Aftermath of a 36-hour snowstorm

This is the biggest snowfall in one go that we've had this winter, and as there was already a fair bit on the ground, it's getting pretty deep in places. It was windy with it, so the snow is in drifts and has formed some attractive contours around the trees:

Snow contours

This was how our driveway was looking first thing this morning:

Snow-covered drive

...before Mike got to work with the tractor and snow-blower attachment:

Snowblower to the rescue!

The front path and steps had to be done with a shovel and it was quite a good workout (though I realise now that I was doing it all wrong).

Front path after shovelling workout

The new composter is looking a bit buried, too:

Composter snowed in

07 March 2008

Talking garbage

Curbside recycling and garbageI'm impressed with the way garbage is dealt with here. All recyclable packaging and containers are collected free of charge every other week and there's a weekly collection of 'real' garbage, which costs $2 per bag. You buy little blue labels in advance and stick them on the bags when you put them out. As the recycling is so comprehensive, we find we're only generating one bag of rubbish a fortnight - so we spend $52 a year (£26) for this service, which seems reasonable.

I've been composting all the vegetable waste we produce in two plastic compost bins that were here when we arrived, but it seems this isn't that common a practice here. Recently the County advertised in the local paper, asking people to apply for a rotating composter as part of a County-wide trial. I've always fancied one of those, so I applied and was thrilled to find out the other week that I had been selected to take part, along with 19 other households around the County (75 applications had been received in all). Last night there was a meeting about the trial and I got to collect my new toy.

Composting scale and tubThe Council don't currently provide a separate kerbside collection service for compostable materials, so a lot of it is going into landfill at the moment. It costs them $225 per tonne to dump things in landfill, so this trial is looking at ways of reducing that cost. As well as the composter, they provided us all with a green bucket for use in the kitchen and a scale to weigh it with. We have to weigh the waste that we put into the composter and record the amounts, until the end of October. Then these figures will be used to calculate the savings for the County. I didn't like to point out that I would have composted my materials anyway...

There were some interesting talks, including one from Doug Parker, who farms on an organically-certified farm in South Marysburgh. It was great to listen to someone who is so passionate about compost (which, by the way, is mainly pronounced to rhyme with 'post' around here). He had even brought some of his compost along for everyone to examine. Then two representatives of the manufacturers described the features of the composter. It's supposed to be pest-proof (which is good, as we had a rat living in our compost bin in Sale for a while), although they had heard of one installation in Vermont which was regularly played with by a bear.

Rotating composterThis morning Mike and I set up the composter and I placed it next to the back door (this involved shovelling out a big snow drift). It's made by Sun-Mar, who started out making composting toilets and this is built on the same principles. The rotating drum speeds up the composting process, so that compost can be extracted from the centre in as little as two to four weeks. Although it might have to get a bit warmer outside before that's achievable, I suspect. The retail price of one of these is $250. I've paid $50 to take part in the trial, but I think $30 of that is refundable at the end of it, so I'll get my composter for $20. Bargain!

06 March 2008

"Winter from Hell"

Ice pelletsAccording to the chief climatologist of Environment Canada in the Ottawa Sun, anyway. The kids were home on two days this week because the buses were cancelled. Yesterday the schools were shut, which is the first time that has happened this winter (poor kids who live near them are usually expected to turn up, even if all the buses are cancelled).

Apparently there's another big storm heading in for Saturday, so all the families heading off for a Spring Break holiday abroad might have problems leaving the country this weekend. They don't have an Easter holiday here, just Good Friday and Easter Monday off, and the (inappropriately named) Spring Break, which is all of next week. So they won't be getting a lot of 'instructional time' this month, one way or another.

Yesterday's storm started off with ice pellets, for a change, but then turned into snow again. It made shovelling it off the path harder, as the ice pellets form a hard, caked layer under the snow. I had a vivid Technicolor dream last night about all the snow melting and spring flowers and vegetables emerging from beneath it. Even my subconscious is yearning for spring! This image from Flickr was the closest I could find to my dream, so I'm putting it here to cheer the blog up a bit and make a change from the never-ending views of ice and snow.

Image from QuintanaRoo on Flickr.

03 March 2008

The one with the big clock

Eiffel TowerClock Tower at Westminster (Big Ben)

"You're from England, right?" asked one of the children at lunch time yesterday. "Is that the one with the Eiffel Tower, or the one with the big clock?"

01 March 2008

The tyranny of party bags

I loathe organising children's parties. People don't reply to invitations and the kids are usually over-excited and often obnoxious. Here, parties seem to be a bit lower-key than some of the ones the children attended in the UK - they're usually held in the child's own home and I haven't heard of anyone hiring entertainers yet. For Child #1's birthday treat tomorrow we're taking a group of girls out for a pizza and a movie. We did this last year, in England, and two of the kids ended up being very sick (I do apologise, Altrincham Pizza Hut employees) so I'm hoping we'll have better luck this year.

Party bundlesLast year I didn't bother with party bags and I was planning not to this year either. I even deliberately ignored the party bags in Bulk Barn this morning. But by this afternoon I was feeling mean about it, so I made some fudge and then roped Child #1 in to help me make the wrappers. She found some silver ribbon lurking in a drawer and made name labels, then we wrapped baking parchment squares around the fudge and tied them up. It was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon and I think they looked quite good in the end: not a bit of plastic tat in sight!

Postscript: The girls were all delightful and behaved beautifully. I might have to revise my feelings about birthday treats - or maybe 10/11 year olds are just more mature than smaller kids. Their class teacher and her two daughters ended up seeing the movie at the same time us, which may have been an added incentive for good behaviour, I suppose!