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.