24 December 2015

Christmas Eve harvest

I know it can't last, but the exceptional weather has continued, with temperatures hitting 15°C/59°F today. I was able to harvest quite a few green things from the garden for our Christmas dinner:



small but perfectly formed purple cauliflowers

and both sprouts and Brussels tops

I pulled up a swede/rutabaga, too.

We are promised a storm next week and I'm sure winter proper will be upon us soon, but I am thoroughly enjoying this reprieve, however temporary!

06 December 2015

Bringing the garden indoors

Still mild here (hope writing that doesn't jinx things) - the greenhouse herbs are still going strong. Here's the dill:

The parsley is still going, too. I mentioned the herbs to a colleague who asked if I bring some in for the winter. I don't normally (apart from the rosemary), but this struck me as an excellent idea, so this winter I have done just that, bringing some in from the garden, others from the greenhouse. The cat is having to share her windowsill with rosemary, dill, sage, thyme, oregano, parsley and coriander/cilantro. You can't see it in this photo, but the rosemary is actually flowering at the moment!

There were still some root crops to harvest: I pulled the last of the parsnips, most of the carrots and a couple of parsnips from the greenhouse and dug up a couple of pounds of sunchokes from the garden, as the soil is still soft enough to dig.

I also got a cabbage from the brassica patch, which is still doing well - there will be swedes/rutabagas to pull and more kale there. I think we might even get some Brussels sprouts, although they won't be as big as the ones happening in the UK this year. They even made the front page of the Weather Network's site (I think they are having to drum up stories about sprouts because the weather is being so un-newsworthy here!).

29 November 2015

Winter on the way

November has been so mild, I'm still picking kale from the garden. Which is lucky, because the ones in the greenhouse are being comprehensively nibbled by caterpillars.

This morning was the coldest yet, -8C/17F but gorgeously sparkly. Just a taste of winter.

Or maybe a warning...

18 October 2015

Pre-frost harvest

Yesterday evening I was running round the greenhouse in a variation on Supermarket Sweep, gathering up vegetables that I thought might be damaged beyond edibility by the coming frost.

The frost certainly arrived: touching my marigolds

and my outside vegetables. Not that this kale will mind: there's a fair bit of broccoli, cabbage, sprouts and cabbage still to harvest outside and this level of cold won't do them any harm.

And having done all that harvesting, the plants in the greenhouse survived the frost undamaged, so with any luck there will still be more tomatoes and peppers to gather in the next week or two.

10 October 2015

Thanksgiving harvest

There was a slight frost this morning: not enough to kill anything, or spoil the tomatoes, but enough to turn the roof white and create a crispy feeling underfoot.

The Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and Child1 has come home from university to share it with us. We've been talking on Skype most days, probably for longer than when we were under the same roof, but it's nice to have everyone under the same roof for a while (even if it is covered with frost).

I did a sweep of the garden and greenhouse to gather up food for the weekend. Pulled a huge cabbage, three pie pumpkins, some tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and peppers. Bottom left are what I at first thought should be purple cauliflower, but then gradually worked out are in fact purple sprouting broccoli. This is the first year I've successfully grown these. There are some mini purple cauliflower coming too, but the leaves, now I look at them, are different from the broccoli ones.

Plenty to give thanks for, anyway!

27 September 2015

Sun-drying tomatoes

One of the tomato varieties I regularly grow is Principe Borghese (I seem to recall that these were a gift from another garden blogger, some years ago). In one of the descriptions online was a note that it used as a sun-dried tomato in Italy. Ever since I read that I've been thinking I should try this, but haven't got around to it until this year.

My oven has a dehydration setting, which is what I used for my first batch, but it was not very successful: even after 24 hours the tomatoes weren't dry and I wasn't impressed at having to leave the oven on for so long. (I did learn that my oven automatically turns itself off after being on for 12 hours, so that was vaguely interesting.)

So, Plan B. Which involves the sun. Much more satisfactory.

My set-up is about as low-tech as it gets. Small tomatoes, cut in half and arranged on a baking tray in the greenhouse. I've put the tray on top of some small plant pots - thinking this might deter crawling insects - and I have loosely wrapped horticultural fleece over the tray. The fleece allows the sun through, while letting moisture evaporate off. It also stops flying insects landing on the tomatoes.

They've only been out there for eight hours and are already looking drier than the first batch did after 12 hours in the oven.

If this works, it really is ridiculously easy!

06 September 2015

All shapes and sizes

I've got three different eggplant varieties growing this year, and so far I've had one fruit from each, with quite a few more to come if it stays warm for a while.

This one, applegreen, is new to me:

Korean early long:

And my favourite, as far as looks go, rosa bianca:

05 September 2015

Peppers (again!)

The hot weather in the last couple of weeks has really been ripening the peppers. I spent a happy ten minutes this morning, picking them.

I roasted the sweet peppers and then pulled the skins off them, once they'd cooled down a bit.

Then I packed them into a jar and pressure canned them for half an hour. This should preserve them over the winter.

I also tried a new trick with the pressure cooker - using it to cook eggs. Fresh eggs are always a pain to peel, but if you cook them in the pressure cooker, they turn out to be extremely easy. I cooked them at the lower pressure setting for six minutes. I think next time I'll do it for four or five, as the yolks were a bit dry for my taste, but this was definitely an experiment that was worth repeating.

15 August 2015

Pepper pots

The peppers remained green for a long time, but are just starting to ripen. I picked two large flower-pots' worth this morning. The bright red ones in the middle are Cayennes and the ones to the bottom are Hungarian Hot Wax. The dark red peppers were supposed to be California Wonder,  but they look more like the Chocolate pepper I've grown in other years. The pretty yellow ones are Antohi peppers - they have an orange blush to them as they ripen. And the green ones are Tam JalapeƱo peppers, which I have sliced and pickled for winter use, together with the Hot Wax ones. They're nice on pizzas or in salads or sandwiches, to add a bit of extra flavour.

27 July 2015

Lentil harvest (part 2)

The pillowcase-and-baseball-bat threshing technique worked well to release the lentils from their pods. Then I removed the stems of the plants and tipped the remaining material from one plastic container to another, in a light breeze, to winnow out the last bits of straw and seed-pods.

From about 20 lentil plants, I recovered about half a cup of lentils (80g). Enough for one meal, perhaps, which perhaps doesn't sound too impressive. There are around 160 lentils in 5g, which gives a total yield of around 2,650 lentils in my batch.  I probably only sowed about 20 lentils to begin with, so that's a return of 13,150% on my initial investment, which is nothing to sniff at.

I'll keep a lot of these seeds for next year and grow a bigger patch outside, if I can devise a way of protecting the seedlings from rabbits!

23 July 2015

New harvests

I'm growing lentils this year and the time has come to harvest my first crop. Last year I tried growing them outside and every last plant was eaten by rabbits. This year I grew them in the greenhouse for a bit more protection.

I've been doing some research to find out the best way of processing the crop, and it seems that pulling the entire plant and leaving it to dry for a few days is the best approach. Then I should be able to thresh the plants by putting them in a pillowcase and bashing them about a bit, before separating the lentils from the straw.

Out of curiosity, I broke open a few of the pods to see what the lentils look like. The variety is Le Puy, which is the famous lentil grown in that region of France. There, they grow in a volcanic soil which gives them a unique flavour and in the European Union you can only call a lentil a Le Puy lentil if it is grown in that region. I suppose those types of rules don't apply outside the EU, but I don't know what you're supposed to call a Le Puy lentil if you grow it somewhere else! They are an interesting colour: basically green, but with blue marbling on them.

The other crops I've been researching harvesting techniques for are those in my 'grain patch' for this year. These are also new for me. From right to left in the picture below are: hull-less oats, Sangatsuga barley and Red Fife wheat. There's quite a bit of hop-clover growing underneath them, which I've left there, as it adds nitrogen to the soil and I don't think is doing the grains any harm.

These aren't ready to harvest yet, but they are definitely changing colour. Here they are in more detail - the oats:

The barley:

And the wheat:

My plan for these so far is to save the grain and sow a bigger patch next year, with the eventual aim of using it as feed for the chickens. Or maybe even eating it ourselves!

06 July 2015

Belated Canada Day blooms

I generally start the growing season with some sort of plan for the front garden bed that I can see from the kitchen window, but they rarely work as I expect them to. I grew cosmos this year, but only two of the plants survived and they are currently very tiny and spindly.  I also planted some miniature sunflowers, which have come up and should be flowering soon.

Star of the show at the moment though are these poppies, which I am fairly sure I did not sow. I don't know where they came from, but they're very pretty, and with the cilantro blooming at the same time, they are looking very patriotic. Shame they came out just after Canada Day!

A lot of this bed is given over to perennial edibles: sage, lovage, borage and horseradish, so the annuals have to be squeezed in between those. The bees and wasps love the borage and lovage: at one point this week I counted eight blue mud dauber wasps enjoying the lovage flowers. These wasps aren't at all aggressive and they eat spiders, so if you're not of fan of spiders, these are the good guys!

02 July 2015

A greenhouse perambulation

There are six raised beds in our greenhouse and at this time of year they're all in use for various crops. I love going in there and checking on progress, tidying things up and pulling weeds or overgrown lettuces. There are a lot of the latter: I let some of last year's lettuce go to seed and lots of it came up in the spring, in addition to what I sowed myself. Luckily the chickens adore it, overgrown or not, so it doesn't go to waste.

Bed 1 is the first one we built. This year it is full of a range of heirloom tomato plants, with some basil and the inevitable lettuce plant (I'll save the seeds from the two dark red ones you can see in the front here). Most other years I've had problems with blossom end rot on the big tomatoes, but so far so good this year. I put a good layer of chicken manure in this bed before planting it, so maybe that has helped.

Bed 2, the next one along, houses a huge sage bush and some more basil and lettuce (out of shot here). There are three okra plants in this bed - they are only just getting growing properly now, after a cool start to the season. They really need the protection of the greenhouse to put on growth, but they should take off in the next few weeks. There is already one pod forming on the biggest plant - although I managed to miss seeing the flower open! Behind them are a few late tomato plants (sown after I lost the outside ones to the late May frost). The white flower is a cilantro/coriander plant. They are great for attracting pollinators.

Bed 3 was my brassica nursery bed and I left a couple of kale plants in there for an earlier crop - they're producing lots of leaves already, while the ones I transplanted outside are about half this size. Behind the kale are lentils - my first year of successfully growing these (the rabbits got them last year when I sowed them outside!). In the rest of this bed I replaced the transplanted brassicas with beets and some carrots. They are being bothered by a nest of ants, so I've transplanted some sage into the bed, because ants aren't supposed to like it. Doesn't seem to be having any effect so far, though!

Bed 4 was my pea, parsnip and lettuce bed. The peas (Green Arrow and Little Marvel, with Oregon Sugar Snap at the back) are going over now, but I'll keep some to save as seed. I'm slowly pulling up the lettuce for the chickens and in the centre of this bed are my eggplants. Like the okra, they've been slowed up by the cool weather we've been having, but this week they've started to put on more growth and I'm hopeful they'll produce a good crop. It'll help when I pull out the peas which have been shading them, too. I've got three eggplant varieties this year: Applegreen, Korean Early Long and Rosa Bianca. They are all from Baker Creek, although they don't seem to do the Korean Early Long variety any more. These were from a 2012 seed packet, mind you!

Bed 5 is mainly peppers, with some carrots, beets, chard, later-sown tomatoes and already-going-to-seed spinach (I'll save that, too). This bed was also full of self-sown dill and I've been steadily pulling that out to avoid having the same problem next year! Most of the peppers are doing fine - I've put tomato cages round them to give them a bit of extra support before the fruit start coming. I find tomato cages good for peas and cucumbers, too. Note that I use stakes for the actual tomatoes!

A few of the peppers are very pale and a bit small - I'm not sure if this is a defect of the variety (I have failed to label them, as usual!) or a defect of their soil. Since they are all growing in the same place, it would be odd if that were the case, but I'll have to wait for the fruit to form to see if it's the variety that's the problem.

Bed 6 was only supposed to be melons and cucumbers, but the self-sown lettuce took over in here - even growing on the floor! There's still quite a lot of dill in this bed, too.

I haven't grown watermelons before and I didn't realise how huge the plants get. I pulled the cart up to support this one melon, but it's already grown through the end of the cart. I think it's going to take over the whole greenhouse!

16 June 2015

Family portrait

These chicks hatched on Friday and Saturday, but today was the first time I managed to get all five of them in shot (barely!). Their mama has been highly protective of them: I hear her making a warning call to the chicks every time I open the door at the back of the barn and up to now at least one or two of the chicks have always been hidden underneath her wings.They're getting a bit more adventurous now, though.

Three of the chicks were from Ameraucana eggs, and the other two were either Welsummer or Barnevelder eggs (I haven't been able to spot the difference between those). The father was most likely the younger Buff Orpington rooster who is currently Top Bird, but it's just possible that the browner chick had the Welsummer cockerel as its sire. That one hatched from a blue egg, not a brown one. Three of the chicks are almost identical at present, with a small brown mark on their heads and otherwise golden. The chick on the right of this shot is all golden and a bit paler than the others. It will be interesting to see what colours they turn into as they grow up.

13 June 2015


May was very dry: our big water tanks in the barn never got properly full after the winter and by May 29th the well had run dry. Things were getting desparate! Luckily, the weather changed on May 30th and we got about 10mm/0.4 inches of rain that day. June has been providing some good downpours, too - so far this month the Trenton weather station is reporting 50mm/2 inches of rain, where in the whole of May it only received 30mm (just over an inch).

My Fling swag included a rain gauge - it recorded 0.8 inches (20mm) just yesterday.

The grass around the upper vegetable garden beds was looking very brown at the end of May and the beans I'd sown in the bed to the left of the centre of this shot had stubbornly refused to germinate, so I'd sown some more:

But yesterday it had turned a more respectable shade of green:

 and I've got beans popping up all over!

This morning I noticed some yellow patches in the grass. On closer inspection I could see hundreds of small yellow balls on the grass. I think this is the lawn rust fungus - not something I've ever seen before - these wet conditions must be just right for it.

And more unexpected fungi - these shaggy ink caps were growing out of the side of the chicken manure heap I excavated from the small barn in April.

Our barn water tanks are now full up - to the point of overflowing, in fact - and our basement cistern is also full. Such a relief!