19 August 2023

Garlic harvest

It's been a while, but I thought I'd better blow off a few cobwebs and start posting here again. A lot has happened since I last wrote a post, in late 2020, a lot of it rather sad. We lost my mother-in-law on her late husband's birthday in 2021 and then last year, on his wife's birthday, my dad died as a result of a stroke he suffered during the exceptional heatwave in July.

The last time I spoke to Dad was the day I harvested the garlic in 2022 and I generally plant the garlic around the time of his birthday in October, so the plant is going to be forever linked to memories of Dad in my mind.

I harvested the crop a little later this year: it's been a cooler, wetter summer than the average, and the bulbs weren't ready to pull until early August.

I plant around 40 cloves in one of the raised beds. The garlic keeps fairly well in the basement for about six months, but after that, it gets inedible, so this year I decided to try pickling some of the crop to keep it a bit longer.

After it had been curing for a couple of weeks, I reserved ten garlic heads for replanting in October, and chose another ten heads for storing and use over the next few months.

Then it was just a small matter of peeling the cloves of the remaining 20 heads of garlic. Mike gave me a hand, so this didn't take too long.

This quantity of garlic cloves weighed just over a kilogram before we peeled them. They filled one quart jar and one pint one and needed about 600ml of vinegar (yep, still using a hopeless mixture of Imperial and metric measures). I warmed the vinegar up enough to dissolve a couple of teaspoons of pickling salt, then poured it over the garlic. These should keep well in the fridge.


Garlic is pretty much the only crop I grow where I can claim any measure of self-sufficiency. I enjoy growing it, cooking with it, and eating it. Now all those things are going to be tinged with a little sadness, but I don't see that as a bad thing.

13 December 2020

Ginger Explosions

I've been experimenting with ginger, trying to develop the ultimate ginger biscuit/cookie recipe. Of course, this is in a month where a worldwide ginger shortage has been announced

The cookies in the picture are the result of my third attempt and this time I am satisfied with the end result (the first two were just not gingery enough). The secret ingredient is crystallized or candied ginger, chopped small:

And this recipe also contains fresh ginger, along with the usual ground variety. I combined two different recipes to get the perfect combination.

Ingredients for Ginger Explosions

100g butter

75g brown sugar

100g golden syrup

0.5 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

250g all-purpose flour

1.5 tablespoons ground ginger (1 tablespoon for a less fiery taste)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 egg

100g crystallized/candied ginger, chopped into small pieces


1. Melt the butter with the syrup, grated ginger and sugar. Set aside to cool.

2. Mix the flour, ground ginger, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

3. Stir the cooled butter mixture into the flour mixture and add the egg and ginger.

4. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on to baking sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving room for spreading.

5. Bake at 350F/180C for 15 minutes. Cool on sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. 


28 June 2020

Easily pleased

I made some garden-related comment to Mike the other day: it might have been about the first eggplant flower, or perhaps it was about the strawberries that were starting to ripen, I forget. His reply was "You're easily pleased, aren't you?"

Yes, yes I am. I take huge pleasure every year from watching the seedlings grow into food-producing plants, from harvesting the fruit and vegetables, and from serving food from the garden at the table. And in these constrained times, I also take pleasure in knowing that these things can continue. I have a friend whose community garden was closed because of Covid-19 and I honestly can't imagine not having access to growing space.

One of the industries that has done well in the pandemic has been the vendors of seeds. I visited the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website back in March to order something I had forgotten (beetroot seeds, I think), only to find this temporary closure notice:

And supermarket shelves were being denuded of flour and yeast. Suddenly it seemed as though the whole world was shifting to live life the way I do. In the midst of all the concern and disruption, there was something strangely validating about that. It will be interesting to see if the shift to home growing and home baking lasts beyond this year.

31 May 2020

Signs of life

I ordered some fruit and nut plants back in February as part of the general aim of self-sufficiency. They arrived ten days ago and we have been busy planting and watering them. It has been good to have the new plants to dote on as a distraction from pandemic news...

Peach tree shoots.

I have been watching them anxiously for signs of life and nearly all have rewarded me with progress. The picture is of the shoots on the peach tree, 'Reliance', which is supposed to be able to take the winters here. Frankly, I am doubtful, but I hope that I am wrong! [Edited to say that actually this is the sweet cherry tree, not the peach!] The other plants include hazelnuts, blackberries, a mulberry bush and a cherry tree. 'I had a little nut tree' has been going round in my head now for days...

The only things yet to show any indication of growth are the raspberry canes.

I was able to go into work on Wednesday of this week, which was great. I had a list of things I couldn't deal with while working at home and managed to deal with most of them. I was back to working from home on Thursday and found it was very hard to settle to anything after having a day at work. Uncertainty is the worst part of it: it will be good to get into a set routine again.

13 April 2020

Taking it slow

Life in lockdown is not so different from normal life for me. I don't have small children out of school to worry about and I can work from home with no great difficulty. With Mike and Child2 here with me, I don't feel particularly isolated, and I'm still in regular contact with my father and my aunt in England. We have plenty of space for a long walk with the dog (although he's getting on a bit and not as keen on a long walk as he once would have been...). I know we are luckier than a lot of people who are cooped up with less ability to get out in the fresh air.

What has changed is the pace of things. Not that my life Before was exactly a whirlwind of activity, but now I am not rushing to get out of the house before 7.30 to see my mother-in-law in her nursing home before going off to work, things feel much more leisurely. The library where I normally work was closed to staff from 23 March and I went in on the 24th to finish some jobs and pick up a few things (including the office orchid!). Working from home involves connecting to my desktop remotely and this can be a frustrating experience: there's a bit of a lag across the network and it feels like I am working in slow motion most of the time.

I think my brain is on a go-slow anyway, with a low-level background level of panic which actually reminds me of my state of mind back in May 2007, just before we left England for Canada. It's quite hard to concentrate on anything for any length of time: reading fiction seems beyond my capabilities at present, for example, and my sleep is disturbed. I feel unproductive as a result, but I am not going to beat myself up about that: if we can't make exceptions for ourselves in exceptional times, then when can we?

Asparagus spear emerging.

Outside of work, I'm focusing on watching the garden come back to life and getting comfort from the usual cycles of plants and wild birds. Humans might be making a mess of things, but Mother Nature is still doing her thing. Hope you are safe and well wherever you are reading this.

22 March 2020

Strange times

Well, I haven't been doing a very good job of keeping this blog up to date, have I? My impression is that the coronavirus crisis is creating a new generation of bloggers as people are more and more confined to their own homes and finding that blogging is a good way of connecting with friends and family. I should probably do the same.

Closure noticeThings are moving fast: right now we have 1,329 reported cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 377 in Ontario and 19 deaths. The public library I work inside was still open on 16 March, but closed to the public that evening. I closed the archives on the morning of the 16th, but have been continuing to go to work, as I can still be doing things like answering enquiries and digitizing archival materials while the building is closed.

 Not that people are really asking questions about archives at the moment, but that might change as this situation becomes the new normal. I'm fortunate in that I don't use public transit to get to work and I don't really interact with anyone while I'm there. I will probably start talking to myself, soon, though...
Book being digitized

Restaurants and bars were shut down last week, and my impression is that people here are being fairly diligent about maintaining distances from each other and not doing too much in the way of panic-buying.

The nursing homes started restricting visiting hours and screening visitors on 2 March: they were taking people's temperatures and I could only go and see my mother-in-law on my way home from work instead of my usual routine of popping in twice a day. On 8 March that changed and all visitors were banned in order to protect the residents. My mother-in-law is not well enough to be aware of this change (😢), which is some comfort, I suppose, but it must be very hard for many families.

Meanwhile, I'm focusing on getting the garden going and appreciating the change of season. Yesterday I potted on all my eggplants and peppers. I have 58 plants in total, so we should be fairly self-sufficient in those this year, all going well!

Young epplant

Next weekend I will sow the tomatoes and in April I am expecting a delivery of fruit and nut trees and shrubs to regenerate the orchard. It's good to have something else to think about...

16 November 2019

Wild November

 November has been a fairly memorable month so far, in terms of weather. On the first of the month, gale force winds brought down several trees and left us without power for two days.

This red cedar (Eastern juniper) in our back yard was the most significant casualty. It also took down the power line from the house to the barn and greenhouse.

Mike has been busy with clippers, chipper, and chainsaw since. I still can't get over the amazing colour of the cedar wood, once it is cut up.

A closer look at the root ball of the tree shows just how shallow the soil is here: the roots have wrapped themselves around the limestone rocks below.

A killing frost in the first week put paid to all the tender crops in the greenhouse, so I spent last Sunday clearing them all out and putting the greenhouse to bed for the winter. I'm glad I did, because  this week we had significant snowfall on Monday, followed by record-breaking cold.

It might be an interesting winter!