Monday 29 December 2014

Harvest Monday: December 29, 2014 ... And On Preserving Herbs

It's been about 6 weeks since I've had anything to harvest and it's only the luck of the recent warm weather we've had that I have something to talk about this week.  ALL of the snow shown in the main picture on my previous post has disappeared.  A completely green Christmas which is quite rare in Eastern Ontario (and I'm more than a little happy about it).

That being said, there wasn't much in the garden to harvest other than the hardiest of herbs (thyme, rosemary and sage) - but I'll take what I can get (I also had enough kale to nibble on while I snipped the herbs).  And so I finally took the opportunity to preserve some herbs.  Although I'm not sure why I bothered with the little bit of rosemary I had since I had previously dug up one of my plants and brought it in for the winter - seems to be keeping healthy enough (alongside geraniums).

I've dried herbs in the past but have generally found it to be messy.  And then, with the most common herbs I would use in winter (thyme and rosemary), I seem to end up buying them fresh from the store anyway.

I have jars (and jars and jars!) of basil preserved in the form of pesto - sometimes just the basil and olive oil without any nuts (and I never use cheese when I store pesto - best when added during cooking).  So it seems the combination of herbs and oil works for my needs.

I chopped some herbs and put a teaspoon or so of each into ice cube trays (OK, this isn't actually an ice cube tray but it's what I had on hand).  For the thyme and rosemary, I followed with olive oil; for the sage, I used melted butter because that's how I usually use sage ... like in this Chard and Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce.

And into the freezer it went.  I had a bit of  hard time getting it out of this container - but just like ice cubes, you can either let it melt a teeny bit to loosen them or run a bit of warm water on the other side (have a bowl underneath to catch them as they'll slide right out!).

And voila ... some little gems to toss into a soup, stew, or hmm ... maybe some mashed potatoes?!

Check out Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday to see what other gardeners are keeping themselves busy with at this time of the year.

Saturday 13 December 2014

2014: My Year in the Vegetable Garden

With the amount of snow I already have, the 2014 gardening season seems so long ago!

I've only been growing vegetables for about a decade now and the first few years I was growing only the basics (for me that means tomatoes, potatoes and lettuce).  I am still learning so much every year and trying new techniques to figure out what works best.  And just when I thought I had at least a few things figured out, I moved - this was only the second season in this new location.  So the soil, moisture levels, weeds ... even the bugs are different though I am only an hour or two from where I used to garden (thank goodness I don't have wild parsnip to deal with here).

So here are some of the new things I tried this year, with some being more successful than others.

The 3 sisters garden.  Verdict: Total Failure.
I've grown plenty of squash before and have dabbled with beans.  But this is the first time I've tried to grow corn and the first time I put all three in the same plot.  None of them grew well so I can't comment on the benefits of growing them together.  I had intentionally planted this away from my other gardens simply because I was worried the corn would attract more pests (namely raccoons).  And I think I just put it in a spot that didn't get enough sun.  I only got a handful of beans, the corn never got past two feet tall and the red kuri squash plants were rather pathetic with no squash to show for my efforts.  Now that I've dug up this bit of my lawn, I'll find something else to put there that can manage with less sunlight.  But I do want to try corn again and might still try these three items together again next year.

Kale.  Verdict: Awesome.


I have never even eaten kale before this year!  I planted two types - Nero di Toscana (seeds from William Dam) and some seeds that I picked up at a seed swap when visiting my family in BC that turned out to be Red Russian Kale.  It is super easy to grow and required very little effort.  This is one of those "cut and come again" veggies - trim off the tops and it just keeps coming up.  And a very hardy plant - it is still standing up tall in my garden under all that snow!

Bamboo Poles for Peas/Beans.  Verdict: Useless.
But it wasn't entirely the fault of the poles.  In my ignorance, I somehow expected the plants to wind themselves around the poles so I didn't even give them so much as a nudge.  I had grown them up a trellis the previous year (my first year with either beans or peas) and they seemed to just take to it on their own. I kind of thought they'd do the same with the poles but ... no.  Anyway, I think I prefer the trellis concept simply because it is easier to manage in straight rows.  But I'm still working on exactly what those trellises will be made with next year.
Wood Ash in the Garden.  Verdict: Unclear.
I have a woodstove that I use throughout the winter.  I have geothermal heating and once the temperature drops below -25°C (which it does quite often around here), it simply isn't as effective in heating the house.  So I use the woodstove quite a bit which produces plenty of ash.  I keep the ash in a barrel near the garden and so I added some to the soil for the peas.  Ash is alkaline so I figured it would be good for peas.  Although the peas didn't magically work their way up the bamboo poles, I still had plenty of them.  I just can't say it was due to the ash.  But I'll do this again next year and also see what other veggies I can try it with.

Spaghetti Squash.  Verdict: Awesome.


This is the first time I grew spaghetti squash and also the first time I saved seeds from a store-bought veggie.  So I don't know the variety but they grew well and taste great.  But I think I'll purchase some seeds for next year just so I know what kind I'm growing.

Composting.  Verdict:  Total Success.
Okay, this is definitely not the first year that I composted.  But this is the first year that I successfully created useable compost in a single growing season.  I always had a good idea of mixing up browns and greens in the compost pile, but it took the spring seminar on composting to really teach me proper techniques - mostly I just wasn't turning it over enough.  I only had enough to cover a 10' x 10' space this year but I'm going to build a much larger compost area next year.

My Own Seed Potatoes.  Verdict:  Success.
This was more of a coincidence than anything intentional.  But when spring rolled around, I still had a lot of potatoes left from the previous year's harvest.  And they had started to sprout down in the cold room - I mean really sprout!  It's the first time I used my own potatoes to grow more potatoes.  I will definitely make that a plan again for 2015.

Harvest Mondays.  Verdict:  Super Fun!
This was the first year that I shared my gardening posts on Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday collection.  I had a lot of fun with it and have learned a lot from the many gardeners who also share their own successes and failures in the garden.

Next season will have plenty more firsts for me in the garden, I'm sure (one of them being kohlrabi as I tasted it for the first time this year and definitely want to grow some).  But I have plenty of time to check out other blogs and get my plans ready.  And I look forward to hearing about other gardener's new ideas for 2015!

Thursday 4 December 2014

Rigatoni with Acorn Squash, Kale and Mushrooms

I put this together a few weeks ago when I still had fresh kale from the garden ... but I could just as easily have used some of the kale I have frozen for use through the winter.  It was one of those "anything-available" kind of dishes - I realized afterwards that I hadn't even bothered with an onion!

I really enjoyed the extra flavour from cooking the squash in almond milk, but it can also be cooked in chicken stock or just plain water.

1 1/2 cups dry rigatoni, cooked
1 cup cubed acorn squash
2 cups almond milk
4 pieces bacon, chopped
6 oz shiitake, chopped or diced
8 oz cremini, chopped or diced
2 cups kale, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
Aged cheddar, cubed or grated parmesan (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water to al dente.  Drain and set aside. Heat the almond milk to a simmer, add the squash and cook until tender.

Heat a saute pan and add the chopped bacon.  Saute 3-4 minutes to render some of the fat then add the mushroooms and fresh thyme.  Cook on medium-high heat until mushrooms are browned.  Add in the kale and toss to combine all ingredients.  Remove from heat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (lots of pepper!).

Add the pasta and mushroom/kale mixture into a casserole dish.  Remove squash from milk with a slotted spoon and add to the casserole dish.  If your pasta is well cooked, you might not want to add any more liquid.  But if you want a creamier dish, add some of the almond milk as well.  Toss in some cubed cheese if using (or just top with grated parmesan for a bit of extra flavour).

Toss to combine all ingredients.  Bake in preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes to heat through all ingredients and let the flavours come together.