Watching the pumpkin turn orange

September 26, 2008

Wow! Looking back over this week’s posts, I see that I’ve turned into a grocery concierge or something. Fortunately, your wallets are safe with today’s post since it’s all about my pumpkin.

That’s right. This crop has produced a singular fruit. As in one lone pumpkin. Oliver and I planted a lot of pumpkin seeds and transferred three sturdy plants out to the garden in spring but alas, only one plant survived (and thrived) and it only produced one pumpkin. But what a pumpkin it is – behold its long faced future jack-o-lantern’s beauty!

Who could ask for more? Certainly not I!

Now I just need to keep it safe until Halloween. Any advice? Should we leave the pumpkin on the vine? Or, should I cut it off and put it in the cold cellar? Your advice is appreciated.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: green beans

August 15, 2008

Photo by: Chris Freeland

Although growing green beans is easy (chances are you grew some in kindergarten in a cup filled with damp paper towel), knowing what to do with them when you have tons and tons (like I do right now) can be challenging.

I’ve grown slightly bored of boiled green beans with butter and salt and pepper and I’ve had just about enough salad Nicoise. So, it’s time to pull out an old standby recipe: Tuscan Green Bean Salad.

This recipe first appeared in my book Pantry Raid published in 2002 but it’s still a simple and stylish little recipe. Enjoy!

Tuscan Green Bean Salad
1/2 tsp (2 mL) grated lemon peel
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper
2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup (75 mL) finely diced aged Pecorino or Asiago cheese
1/2 lb (250 g) green beans

Whisk lemon peel with lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. Toss in cheese.

Cut away stem ends from green beans and cut into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths. Blanch in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes or until bright green but still crisp. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain well; stir into cheese mixture. Makes 4 servings.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: Dana considers professional help

June 27, 2008

I‘ve learned a lot so far on my big gardening adventure. For instance, bugs eat leaves and seed tape sucks (look to the left). In fact, I think I’ve learned just enough about food gardening to realize how much I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m pretty thrilled to be learning so much about the complicated process of growing food!

I’ve already got a lot of plans about how to improve my techniques for next year. I’ll write more specifically about what I’ve learned not to do later in the year when I’m sure I know what I know (I hope that sentence made sense to you. It seemed pretty eloquent until I wrote it down!).

In the meantime I’m going to do more research of both the hands on and reading variety. I’d love to seek out professional help but I don’t think my schedule or pocketbook can afford the luxury. However, if you’re in a different situation, you might like to spend part of your summer on Mary Jane’s Farm. Although it sounds like a pot plot, it turns out that Mary Jane teaches people like me who want to garden organically how to get great results. It’s like a summer camp for green thumbs!

If you can’t go in person, check out their forums, magazines and books for armchair inspiration.

Grow a peck of peppers

June 20, 2008

The first (and truthfully the only) time I grew sweet peppers, it happened completely by mistake. My brother and I, squabbling all the way, accompanied our mother to the garden centre to buy the salvia, marigolds, dusty millers and other showy annuals she planted every year on the Victoria Day long weekend. In an attempt to re-direct our attention (and preserve her own sanity no doubt) she said we could each choose a plant from a table marked with a large hand-painted sign reading Annuals: 4 for $1. I have no recollection of what plant my brother chose, but my choice was a four pack of unmarked stems featuring lovely, dark green leaves.

Being a preteen who was more interested in talking on the phone than gardening, I unceremoniously plunked my spindly plants into the small holes I made in one of the dry beds at the side of our house. It was the kind of plot in which snapdragons and sunflowers thrived since the sun belted down on it unrelentingly each day. As my grandmother pointed out, it was a place “no nice leafy, green plant like that should be asked to grow.” A year earlier I would have taken her hint and moved my plants to a shadier spot, but that summer I was on the verge of adolescence so I just rolled my eyes and left my plants exactly where they stood.

By some miracle, my youthful arrogance was vilified that sweltering Ontario summer as the mystery plants thrived in their sunny location growing to almost 3 feet high. Crammed as they were between so many flowers, it took quite a while to realize that the mystery plants unexpectedly had produced lovely little green bell shaped peppers. Having no idea what to do with them, they stayed on the vine and soon turned a deep, assertive red that begged for attention. Fortunately their efforts were worthwhile since our Italian neighbours spotted them and, at our prompting, picked the peppers we didn’t know what to do with and enjoyed my bountiful crop.

Tips for Growing Peppers:
Sweet peppers (Capsicum annum) are native to the Western hemisphere so they thrive in any part of Canada where other warm season annuals grow well.

In Canada it’s best to sow seeds indoors and transfer plant seedlings that are 6 to 8 weeks old or at the three-leaf stage outdoors when it’s warm enough. Seeds should be germinated in moist but not soggy soil. Once started, the plants ideally should be planted in soil that is warmer than 65 F and has a PH balance of between 5.5 and 6.8.

If you live in an area where spring comes late, you can accelerate the warming of the soil by loosening and covering it to increase the temperature or by planting peppers in raised beds. Because peppers thrive on restricted root growth, they can also be planted in 8 or 9 –in (20 to 23-cm) containers, which can be moved indoors when the nights are still cool.

Plant peppers about 18-inches (45-cm) apart in full sun and thin the seedlings to the two heartiest plants as they mature. Later, pick a few of the first green peppers that emerge to increase production. Water peppers well during flowering and fruiting and spray the flowers with tepid water in evenings if you can. The entire growth cycle should take between 60 and 95 days depending on both the local weather and the colour of peppers you want.

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: planting time!

May 23, 2008

Just as I’m getting my seedlings and delicate baby plants into the garden as part of my own personal locavore experiment, big business is catching on to the concept, too. From the sounds of this article, the effect of big companies growing and processing locally is excellent for the economy as well as for the environment. Good news all around.

My intention is to reduce my food miles for produce to zero this summer and I’m off to a good start. You’ve all seen my seedlings and the bricks I pulled out of my garden to get ready to plant. Now, it’s time for you to meet John, my mom’s boyfriend. That’s him rototilling the soil in the garden behind my test kitchen. As you can see, I didn’t fib when I told you that I had great garden plot. Look at how dark that soil is!

After he finished, I marked out my rows and got my seeds and seedlings into the ground. I’m going to be using 100% organic techniques this year as part of my experiment. With soil that has been a fallow compost heap for at least three summers, I expect I’m going to have a ton of weeds. At John’s suggestion, I’ve spaced the rows wide apart (almost 2 feet/60-cm) so that we can run the rototiller down the rows to mulch up the worst of the weeds as they spring up. That said, I’m expecting to spend a lot of time weeding this summer so next on my purchase list is a composter.

Next week I’ll have pictures of my garden and a full plant list to share so please drop by to see my progress.

Dana’s big gardening adventure continues…

May 16, 2008

I’m getting ready to plant at last! My test kitchen is in a house that has a large, unused backyard. The people that owned the property previously had a wonderful, large vegetable garden at the back of the yard. They split the garden into smaller sections with interlocking brick paths so that even if the ground was wet you could walk through the garden easily.

When we took over the place, there was a lot of yard work to do and the whole family came to help. My dad brought in a skid steer loader which really helped Martin and I to move around things in the front yard so that we could expand the parking area and to help move out the junk that had accumulated in the backyard.

Having no intention at that point to use the veggie patch, we drove over the garden with the machine and piled up brush and stuff there until John, my mom’s boyfriend, could bring in his a wood chipper. Needless to say, all that activity in the garden moved the bricks all around. Now, after several years of weather and compost being spread over this space, the bricks were well disguised, making the garden a veritable mine field for a rototiller.

I enlisted the help of two 11-year-olds (my son and his BFF – it’s amazing what the promise of Dairy Queen can do to motivate kids!) and we set to work searching out the buried rocks. See that pile in the picture above? The three of us unearthed the top five rows on Saturday afternoon. To be honest, although it was hard work it was also fun.

Now obstacle free, it’s time to let John come in to rototill the space so that I can get the seedlings and seeds planted on the long weekend! Wish me luck. My big gardening adventure is finally ready to kick into high gear!

What’s happening in your gardens? Have any of you been brave enough to plant yet?

PS: Here’s a blog I discovered that has some good gardening tips. Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Dana’s big gardening adventure: week three

April 11, 2008

Seedlings week two

Since last week my seeds have germinated but there really isn’t anything exciting to see yet in my seed starter kits. I’m sorry I can’t share a more interesting picture with you (turns out being a better Earthling isn’t visually stimulating at the early stages). What I can share is advice for planning your summer 2008 garden; so, this week we’ll discuss planning and choosing your plot (I’m referring to gardens, not burials BTW).

Although there are still many weeks before people in my corner of Canada will be doing any outdoor gardening, now is the time to plan your garden if you will be starting a new one. I’m lucky that the yard behind the test kitchen has a well-planned garden plot created by the previous owners. Once spring actually arrives, I’ll be able to get to the business of planting and growing my seedlings with very little effort.

For those of you who aren’t as lucky, here are some tips for choosing a good site for a garden plot:

• You’ll need a patch of land that receives 8 to 10 hours of sun per day.
• Look for a level site (if that isn’t an option in your yard, then you may have to build a retaining wall and build up one end to make a level growing space.)
• If possible, dig your garden near a water source. My own garden is far from the house so I’m going to set up a rain barrel to use for quick watering. For deeper soaks, I’ll be lugging around a muddy hose.
• Make sure the soil is safe and has a good base of nutrients. You can do that by purchasing a soil test kit at a garden centre.
• Although by August you may be worrying about drought and sick of rolling and unrolling the hose, if you haven’t chosen a well-drained area for the garden earlier in the year you’ll have problems with ground water, which can lead to root rot, fungus development and other nasty stuff.
• If drainage is a problem, consider raising the beds by surrounding the garden with a wall or a few stacked railway ties. Add a good layer of screenings, sand and top up with a deep layer of topsoil and you’ll assure good drainage.
• Don’t let your ambition outstrip your needs. Start small and, if you find you love vegetable gardening this year, then add extra rows next year. A 10-foot square plot is a large starter garden while a 20 x 40-foot garden will provide enough produce for most families to eat all summer with extra bounty to share with neighbours or the food bank.

Next Friday: Deciding what to grow
Friday after next: Site preparation tips