31 August 2009

Of cabbages and builders

Back in April, in the protective warmth of the greenhouse, the red cabbage seedlings germinated. I sowed many more than I needed but hoped that I would be able to sell the surplus seedlings at a plant sale I would be attending the following month. As it turned out, red cabbages were not a huge hit with the people who visited the sale and I didn't sell a single one.

As a consequence, I have a more than adequate supply of red cabbages becoming ready to pick. The rabbits have nibbled on a few of them, but there are plenty left for us. Coleslaw has become a fairly regular part of our meals of late, but I was also keen to have a go at making sauerkraut with some of the surplus.

About two weeks ago Mike and I set to, slicing cabbages and filling my largest stainless steel pan with the shredded pieces.

We soon found that one head of cabbage makes an awful lot of cabbage shreds.

Sauerkraut is easy to make. We added salt and a little water, weighed the cabbage down with a plate and let it ferment for 10 days or so. Today I packed the sauerkraut into jars. The colour of it is breath-taking. It tastes pretty good, too.

In writing this post I have learnt that sauerkraut was the principal food of the builders of the Great Wall of China. So I shall be expecting great things from myself and Mike in the weeks to come.

Harvesting peas, peppers and sunshine

I've had mixed success with my first try at sowing an autumn crop of peas. I sowed them indoors in July in the cool of the house.* They went out into the garden in early August, in a bed that is fairly shady in the morning. The sugar snap peas have romped away and I'm now picking them again:

Next to them, the Lincoln peas are not looking so good. I think members of the local rabbit population have been tucking into these:

The Corno di Toro Rosso peppers have started to live up to their name, at long last. The cayenne and tomato peppers have been red for a while now but, even with the benefit of the greenhouse, this variety have been slow to ripen.

The solar panels have been in operation for ten months now and yesterday the meter rolled over** to read 1,000. This means that the panels have harvested 10 megawatt hours of electricity from the sun since October last year. Highly satisfactory!

*At this point anyone who lives in Eastern Canada will be thinking that this was an unnecessary precaution this year, as July was cooler than usual.

**Well OK, it's digital, so it didn't actually roll.

27 August 2009

Birds again

Another bird photograph (just to prove that I can get one that is recognisably a bird). This is a Solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) that was feeding on the weed-caked surface of our pond the other day. My bird book describes this as an uncommon sighting in this area: they breed further north, which means that this one was probably on its way elsewhere.
I haven't posted any chicken pictures of late, so here is one to show them in their new enclosure. Mike has blocked off the five gaps in the orchard fence to give them a semi-secure area to roam around in. We let them out in the late morning and they have the freedom of their run and the orchard until the early evening. The logic is that they will lay their eggs in the barn nest boxes in the morning and then fill up on bugs and greens in the orchard the rest of the day. It might not work out that way, but that is the plan. I'm beginning to get impatient to see (and eat!) that first egg.

I bring them in at night by bashing the side of a feed scoop with my fingernails. They recognise this noise and usually all come running back into the barn to get their evening snack of scratch (a mixture of different grains). Occasionally I have to go and chase a slow one back in, but the promise of food works well most of the time.

25 August 2009

Blurry blob

There are some fantastic pictures of Ruby-throated hummingbirds on the Internet.

This is not one of them.

But it is a small proof that I wasn't imagining things when I thought I saw a hummingbird the other night.

24 August 2009

Seeing red

I don't want to be the type of ex-pat who spends all their time moaning about how hard it is to get certain things in their new country (although I know I've already done that here a bit). My attitude towards this type of problem is to find a way to emulate whatever it is that I'm missing. OK, Marmite is one I'm not going to manage, but other things might be easier.

One food item that we grew to love in England was harissa paste. This is a hot chilli/garlic/coriander concoction which is North African in origin. We love it with cous-cous. It is possible to make harissa paste, but it doesn't keep very long (and a little harissa paste goes a long way). When I saw a recipe for tomato, chilli and pepper chutney, I wondered if this might be something we could use when our harissa supplies run out. I made a third of the quantities in the recipe, to test it out.

Here are the raw ingredients that I picked from the garden (except for the garlic which I only remembered after I took the photo). The small red chillies are cayennes, which were hot when they were still green, but which are now HOT!

This is the chopped mixture in the saucepan ready to be cooked.

After about three hours of cooking, the chutney is much reduced in quantity, but still has a vibrant red colour.

It will be two months or so before the chutney is ready to eat, but I'm looking forward to trying it already. The smell of it cooking was so pungent that it made the dog sneeze, so I think it will definitely be hot enough to replace harissa's kick.

23 August 2009


No, not the ridiculously huge vehicles, but the avian variety. I have a vague plan about planting the long bed beside the house with native plants that will attract hummingbirds, but haven't quite got around to that yet. This year it was taken over by wildflowers (no, they're not weeds because I'm happy for them to be there...for now). I started to think more seriously about my plan this morning because I saw my first hummingbird. Of course I didn't have my camera handy, and it took me a few seconds to realise what it was I was looking at. It was feeding from one of these flowers:

This is Spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is also known as Touch-me-not because of its exploding seed pods. We have a large clump of these next to the stream near our barns and it is quite a distinctive plant, with light green leaves, pale purple stems and those attractive slipper-shaped flower heads. It looks particularly beautiful when it's spangled with morning dew.

I always liked this plant, but now I know that hummingbirds visit them, I'm looking at it with a new respect. I've also found out that it has a number of medicinal uses, including stopping fresh mosquito bites from itching and swelling. I really must do something about that long bed next year. There's a handy list of native plants which hummingbirds can feed on, which will give me something to work from.

22 August 2009

Double yellow lines

A couple of snapshots from my journey home from work in Deseronto today. This first one is of the view towards the heavens that is afforded by the aptly-named Skyway Bridge:

The twin yellow lines painted on the bridge seemed to be reflected later on in my journey by the goldenrod plants lining both sides of this country road:

21 August 2009

Summer storm

I took a lot of photographs of complete darkness yesterday evening, but did manage to get this one, too. It's one of the many bolts of lightning that were sparked off by the passage of a cold front across this region after a hot, humid day. Elsewhere in Ontario, tornadoes touched down, killing at least one person.

18 August 2009

Superstar superveg

One of my favourite vegetables is broccoli. Its supervegetable health-promoting qualities are well-known* and it is one of the limited list of vegetables that are enjoyed by everyone in our household.

But mostly I like broccoli because it is so well-behaved. It grows well, regardless of whether there is too much water (as happened here last year), or too little (this year) and once the main head is picked, it obligingly sends up side shoots after side shoots until the cold weather finally kills it off. I can't help but compare it unfavourably to its relative, the cauliflower, which acts like a spoiled celebrity diva: demanding just the right amount of water, having to be picked at just the right moment and refusing to put in any overtime to produce extra florets after the main event.

It is important to soak broccoli florets in salted water after you pick them, if you grow organically. This removes any little bugs and caterpillars that might otherwise provide you with an unwelcome extra portion of protein in your meal. Five to ten minutes or so seems to do the trick.

Broccoli also freezes well, should you find that you've got a little too much to eat all at once. This situation does arise occasionally in my life. I boil it in water for a couple of minutes, then plunge it into iced cold water and bag it up.

*This is a link to a cosmetic surgery site which (for some strange reason) has articles on nutrition. Please don't take this as an endorsement for cosmetic surgery, of which I generally disapprove.**

**Although since I once had laser surgery on my eyes to correct my short/near-sightedness, that probably makes me an enormous hypocrite.

17 August 2009


Summer has finally arrived in the last week, with temperatures getting above the 30°C/86°F mark for the first time this year and relative humidity levels of 70% or so. Needless to say, the cooling provided by the geothermal system that was installed this time last year has been very welcome!

Yesterday morning was ethereally misty when we woke up, allowing me to snatch a nice photograph of the sun as it came up through the trees and (looking in the opposite direction) a picture of the cannas that have grown from the rhizomes my step-mother and father bought us back in May.

Apparently the cannas in their own garden have not produced flowers yet, so I'm just putting this picture up to annoy them, really. ;-)

The heat and sunshine is helping to ripen the peppers and tomatoes. Here is tonight's harvest of sweetcorn, tomato peppers, various tomatoes and a couple of shallots. I turned most of this lot into a paella. I really like the size and shape of the tomato peppers. They're sweet, rather than hot, peppers and they're ripening thick and fast at the moment. Soon I'll be complaining about them, I expect!

Here's how the paella turned out. Hm, the last meal I featured on the blog was a risotto, now more rice. We do eat other starchy foods too, occasionally!

14 August 2009

Not so incy wincy*

Another dewy morning meant that the spider webs were highly visible again. There are some huge ones in the area behind the big barn.

Most seem to be occupied by the striking Yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), which are correspondingly large (their bodies are about an inch long). The web has an interesting zig-zag centre part (called a stabilimentum), which doesn't capture prey and which is apparently there to stop birds flying through it (according to the University of Arkansas's Arthropod Museum, anyway). The female spiders also eat their own web every day, before rebuilding it in the same place (seems like a lot of work).

*Or itsy bitsy, or teensy weensy, depending on your cultural background.

09 August 2009

Paralysis of plenty

You start off being so proud of the produce that your lovingly-tended plants are turning out. Then, after a remarkably short period of time, the delight begins to turn into complacency. A week or so later, the produce is beginning to pile up in the fridge and the challenge of having to do something creative with it all starts to induce sensations of panic in the grower. If you're not careful, a kind of paralysis sets in, until you are faced with the certain knowledge that if you don't do something about it all RIGHT NOW, it's going to start turning bad and you're going to start feeling bad.

It got like that today, with the courgettes/zucchini, which had completely filled the salad drawer in the fridge when I brought two more in to join them (and those two didn't make the photo-shoot). I've only got two plants, but they're ... productive. So far, I've grated four of them and frozen them to be added to winter soups and stews. Three were eaten up at lunch time and my next step is to try my hand at a Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Only don't tell Child #2, who has a horror of anything with zucchini or pumpkin in it.

07 August 2009

Paper Lace

Paper wasp on Queen Anne's Lace flower head
The most common wasp we see here is this paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus). It isn't as aggressive as the usual wasp (Vespula germanica) you see in the UK. Those ones do turn up here too, where they're known as yellow jackets - but I've only really seen them in towns, frequenting their usual favourite haunts of garbage/rubbish containers. These paper wasps have very pronounced waists and extremely long back legs, which look quite comical when you see them in flight.

06 August 2009

Constant vigilance!

I could really use someone like Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter to help me keep an eye on the pickling cucumbers I'm growing. They're supposed to be picked small and pickled as gherkins (the variety is called Parisian Pickling). Although I check them EVERY SINGLE DAY, there always seem to be one or two that escape detection.

The picture shows the harvest over the last two days, arranged by size. On the left are those I managed to collect at approximately the right moment. As you move to the right, you see those that successfully hid from me until they were a bit too big. The yellow monster on the end managed to grow to full ripeness before I noticed it.

03 August 2009

Yes! We have some tomatoes

Happily joining the ranks of those with some tomatoes to show off. These are a mix of Black Cherry, Velvet Red and Principe Borghese. These all came from seeds exchanged with Ottawa Gardener in the winter.

02 August 2009

Pear tree attack

One of the pear trees has been colonised by these tiny tent caterpillars. Well, they're tiny now, but if they keep going like this I imagine they'll soon be enormous.

As we stared in horror at the denudation of the top growth of the tree, Mike noticed that a rearguard action was being fought by a parasitic wasp which was busily laying its eggs in the caterpillars. Good to know we've got an ally!

And in other insect news, it has finally got warm enough for the annual cicadas (Tibicen linnei) to emerge. I've never seen one, but you can't mistake the song the males sing:

01 August 2009

August dew

In response to Esther's comment, I should explain that the lower picture is of a small mushroom known as a Japanese parasol (Latin name either Coprinus plicatilis or Parasola plicatilis, depending on which fungus expert you talk to*).

*If you talk to any at all, that is.