Garlic: it’s not too late to plant

November 13, 2009

iStock_000002952072SmallYesterday I had a nice chat with Warren Ham, the farmer who runs August’s Harvest garlic farm in Stratford, Ontario and guess what he said? It’s not too late to plant some garlic so that you have a home harvest next year. In fact, even if the ground is frozen in your area, Warren says you can scatter compost over the hard ground; plant the cloves and then top them with a thickish layer of compost and you’ll have garlic scapes for stir fries next spring. Seriously.

So, if you were wondering what to do this weekend, now you have plans!  Just follow these tips – provided by Warren – for growing garlic:

  • Make sure you choose cloves that are hard and solid.
  • Plant in a raised bed of about 4-inches to give the bulb uncompacted soil that will allow the roots to develop and for excess rain to drain away in the spring.
  • Plant each clove with the root plate end down
  • Space the cloves 5 inches (12.5 cm) apart
  • Plant near a fence or hedge that can act as a wind break to prevent winter kill

In the spring, harvest the scape flower 10 to 14 days after it appears and use it in your recipes. Harvest the bulbs at the end of the season when the leaves have died back by 30% (the bulbs will open if left longer. Dig from the ground, hang and cure for at least a week before using them in recipes.

Have you ever grown your own garlic?  If not, now that you know how easy it is, will you try?

Grow your own apples

September 25, 2009

appletreeFridayI don’t have my own apple trees but I do live a short drive away from Pine Orchard Farms, a wonderful orchard in King City, Ontario where row after row of wonderful apples grow in abundance. Although home gardeners will never plant trees on this scale, the same rules apply whether you have to tend to two trees or 200.

• Choose a location that offers 8 hours of sun per day (trees in shady areas won’t produce ample fruit).
• For pollination to occur, you need to plant at least two trees within 3 o 4 m of one another.
• Well-drained soil is very important since too much moisture will harm the roots of both new and established trees.
• Likewise, the soil needs to be rich; abundant nutrients are essential for a bountiful crop, so when planting, work compost, bonemeal or bloodmeal into the planting holes dug for each sapling.
• To maintain richness in the soil, add compost each fall or spring around the base of the trees as far out as the drip line; top up with mulch except near the trunk where excessive moisture can cause rot.
• Each fall clear fallen fruits from around the base of the trees to minimize the occurrence of apple maggots and other pests that can ruin the next crop of fruit

This wraps up apple week! Check out 10 tasty ways to eat apples for more suggestions on how to make the most of the season.

Green bean dress-ups

July 27, 2009

TracyGreenBeansUsually by mid July my garden is bulging with green beans. This year, due to our sucky Ontario weather, I’ve had to buy green beans for most of July. Now, at last, I have bush as well as French green beans on the vines in abundance.

While I love to eat green beans that have been simply boiled and tossed with butter, salt and pepper, there are a lot of beans in this garden that are going to be ready pretty much all at once. I have a feeling I need to be ready with some alternate ways to serve them. Otherwise, Oliver may take me hostage and demand another vegetable as ransom. Well, no. That’s not truly likely but regardless, I think we’ll enjoy our crop more if I mix it up a bit with a few simple dress-ups:

Gremolata: Toss hot green beans with enough extra virgin olive oil to coat lightly. Add finely chopped parsley and grated lemon zest, a dab of minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Lemon Pecorino: Toss hot or cool green beans with a little grated lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and coarsely cracked black pepper. Stir in a little minced garlic. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add a handful of finely diced pecorino or asiago cheese. Toss before serving.

Tonnato: Purée some canned tuna with equal parts mayonnaise and olive oil to make a soft paste. Add an anchovy fillet and a tablespoon of capers. Purée, adding lemon juice and pepper to taste. Toss with green beans or spoon over beans and serve on a platter.

Soy ginger: whisk equal parts soy sauce and sesame oil until well combined. Stir in a little minced ginger. Toss with hot green beans. Season with lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds if you like.

Do you have any yummy ways you like to serve green beans that you’d like to share?

Photo credit: Tracy Cox

How to grow a great pumpkin even if you aren’t Charlie Brown

May 20, 2009


I’ve had challenges as a grower of pumpkins. Last year, despite planting seedlings from an entire packet of heirloom seeds, I only got one (albeit a beauty) pumpkin for my troubles. That’s it pictured above. Lovely, isn’t it?

This spring I started pumpkin seedlings in my little greenhouse only to have each of the sturdy stalks that popped up die over night when I transplanted them to larger pots. It was a sad morning.

So, given my lackluster track record, I’m trying something new with the two new packets of seeds I bought last weekend. I read an article in Grow Magazine about planting squash and, knowing that pumpkins are a type of squash, I’m following their instructions. My hope is that I can, with good luck, create a vision of spooky splendour this Halloween using my own crop.

Here’s what the article suggested:

1. Make a mound of dirt in the sunniest part of the garden. (check!)
2. Dig a hole in the centre of the mound and sink a plastic nursery pot into the hole. Back fill around it so that the empty pot is submerged in the soil. (check!)
3. Plant the pumpkin seeds around the submerged pot as directed on the package. (check!)

What’s the purpose? Well, you can add water to the submerged pots and water the roots of the plants more effectively!

Will it work? Only time will tell. At this point I don’t even have sprouts showing but I’ll be sure to get back to you as the season progresses.

Do you have any pumpkin patch tips for me?

Shitty news

March 25, 2009

tomatoseedlingDon’t worry. Everything is fine here! Although I did want to get your attention, I was also being honest about today’s topic: getting your garden soil ready for planting your crops!

Manure is an excellent addition to garden soil because it provides abundant amounts of the three main chemicals your plants need: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Nitrogen is especially helpful for helping heavy feeding plants such as tomatoes to thrive. It also is valuable since it helps soil  to hold moisture and promotes easier and healthier root growth. That said, too much nitrogen can limit the amount of fruit your plants bear so long term organic farmers like David Cohlmeyer of Cookstown Greens rarely add manure to their soil as long as they keep up with their composting.

If you add manure to your garden, it’s ideal to have worked it into your soil in the autumn. You can still add it this spring but the manure absolutely must be well-decomposed (or well-rotted). Fresh and semi-decomposed manure is very “hot” and can damage your plants since it contains too much nitrogen (think about those yellow spots cats and dogs leave on the lawn and you’ll be able to imagine what will happen in your garden if you use undecomposed manure).

There is an unbelievable amount of information available about what kind of manure is best for gardens but the most concise guidance I’ve found comes from the Old Farmer’s Almanac which recommends chicken, cow or horse manure for vegetable gardens or cow and horse manure for flower gardens.

For more basic info about soil in general, check out this detailed article that The Pioneer Woman posted earlier this week.

Will you prepare your soil with compost, fertilizer, manure or any other additives before you do your spring planting?

Waiting for spring

March 11, 2009

seedsWell, my untreated, heirloom seeds are ordered from the William Dam seed catalogue and my little greenhouse is assembled (thanks John!). Now all I have to do is wait for spring to hurry up already and get here!

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to thinking ahead. According to this article in USA Today, seed sales for 2009 are expected to soar to new heights. 

Have you started planning your garden yet? If so, will you start with seeds or plants? I like starting with seeds because there is generally more choice than when you buy live plant stock. (I find it frustrating to be at the garden centre searching for varieties they don’t have in stock.) Besides, it’s so exciting to see little filaments of green popping up through the soil and then, just weeks later, standing tall and fruit laden in your garden!

Likewise, if you are a veggie gardener, what’s your motivation: lower grocery bills, a commitment to locavorism or something else altogether?

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: It’s over

October 17, 2008

This picture shows one of my rescued, window sill-ripened Brandywine tomatoes perched on a rescued Cherokee Purple tomato that itself is perched upon a can of organic Ontario tomatoes. This pic was taken a couple of weeks ago but I saved it for today.

At this point, most of my readers (at least the ones in Canada) will have very little produce to harvest from their gardens. A cabbage remains here and there; a few carrots or beets, tops blackened by frost might still be salvageable; and, maybe a few of you in the warmer parts of Ontario like Pelee Island or in BC on Vancouver Island have some Brussels sprouts waiting for a good frost.

For the rest of us, it’s back to the produce section where many of the options are trucked in from warmer climes. While I will buy lettuce and other produce from around the globe during the colder months, I was heartened to see this can of tomatoes at Planet Organic. It’s nice to know that even if the growing season is over, that good quality local produce solutions can still be found if you look for them.

Will you try to buy products like these tomatoes now that the colder weather has arrived? Or will you put your locavore practices aside until spring?