Wednesday 30 December 2015

2015: My Year in the Vegetable Garden

This is an opportunity to share my thoughts on some new experiences that I had this year growing vegetables; which worked, which didn't.  Looking back on my 2014 "year in the garden" review, I had a mix of failures and successes and similarly so this year - all part of experimenting and trying new things in the organic vegetable garden!

The most exciting experiment has been the new greenhouse.  But 2015 was only my first season with it and I wasn't prepared for spring planting inside (I had failed to fill the bed with dirt before the winter).  It certainly helped to extend the season a little bit at the back end, but I think I'll hold off on sharing my thoughts for another year.  Here are some other things I did in 2015:

Tracking and Weighing Harvest.  Verdict: Partial Success

As you can see from the main picture, I used an excel spreadsheet to track the weight of all harvests.  This is a fantastic way to track harvests and compare year to year and I am glad that I have started to do this.  But I think yield-per-plant or yield-per-foot would be a much better measurement to determine what plants are performing well or not.  Yield per plant might be easy as I just need to pop the # of plants that I'm growing of each variety into a column in the spreadsheet, but I'll see how things go in the new season.  Just having the weight doesn't really help without knowing how many plants I had of each.  And I lost a few weeks of data when my computer hard drive crashed and I hadn't backed up for a couple of weeks plus I forgot to weigh many of the small harvests later in the year.

I'll probably break down some of the categories in separate posts, but you can see that I ended up with 186 pounds of food with 30% coming from cucurbits in the month of August (mainly a few cukes but mostly summer and winter squash).  It's silly to have peas in their own row as I get so few and I tend not to weigh most herbs when I use them throughout the week.  So I'll look at rearranging the categories but I have all of the detail at the individual variety level which is really great to have.

Wordless Wednesday.  Verdict: Thumbs down

I might still do this now and then but it was meant to be a chance to show off various plants or fun things around the yard without having to actually write a post. Turns out I didn't take very many pics in between regular posts so just didn't have any to show off.  Ah well ...

Garden Planning.  Verdict: So-so

I eventually made some fairly elaborate plans for the 2015 garden but I'm not sure it helped me much.  When the time came, I still threw seeds in here and there wherever they fit.  So long as I track my bigger crops that require rotation to avoid disease / insect infestations (e.g. move potatoes around to avoid Colorado potato beetle), I think I'll go back to my loosey-goosey method of figuring things out.

New Vegetables. Verdict: Awesome

Aside from different varieties of the usual (pumpkin, tomato, etc.), the main new items in my garden for 2015 were escarole and kohlrabi, both of which I loved!  The escarole grew like crazy and I probably gave more away than I ate.  The kohlrabi did not grow as well as I would have liked but I really enjoyed having it fresh from the garden so I'll look into my methods and will try again in 2016.  I also loved the Jimmy Nardello peppers so will order a specific seed packet to have more of those.

Testing the "Planting When Soil Can Be Worked" Concept.  Verdict: Success

I started a number of greens (kale, arugula, lettuce) and radish in April as opposed to other years when I had not started anything until the usual outdoor planting time in early June.  So it was great to get a head start on some greens and was actually harvesting in May, at least 6 weeks earlier than I normally would!  But I got a bit excited by the warm weather and planted many cucurbits in the ground just before a late frost in May so this is a reminder to myself to leave the warm weather plants for June.

Pest Management.  Verdict: Depressing

I had a really tough time this past year with pests.  First I struggled with my first ever infestation of the leek moth which destroyed a lot of my garlic - by the time they were discovered, the only solution was to handpick them off.  I was able to save about half of the garlic crop.  Row covers would be needed for the entire year until harvest but that means taking them off and putting them back on every day for watering, etc.  I've already got garlic planted for next year, so will have to figure out my plans by March or April.

Then there were the cucumber beetles and squash bugs, both of which took a serious toll on my cucurbits.  The neem oil treatments are probably the best solution but I started too late.  I am going to move any cucurbits I grow far away from my main garden area as the squash bugs will have overwintered nearby (I've already killed several in the house) and I'll simply grow less winter squash to make sure I can fully manage the pests next year (assuming I might have to handpick them).  And for summer squash, I'll grow tromboncino as the plant is supposed to be a vigorous grower - once a plant is hardy enough, the bugs can't do as much damage.

Overall, I had my usual fun in the garden and I'm already planning the crops for next year!

Monday 28 December 2015

Harvest Monday: December 28, 2015

I can't believe I'm posting an actual harvest (small as it is)!  Some snow finally came down yesterday and more on the way tonight so I am very happy to get this last harvest of the year following the warmer than seasonal weather we've been having.

But I would like to make a point to my fellow Ottawans (um, I think that's what people from Ottawa are called??) who insist that it is not a "Canadian" Christmas unless it's a white Christmas.  How about the millions of Canadians living in Southern BC who rarely experience a white Christmas?!  I lived in the Vancouver area for 3 decades and experienced, at most, 2 Christmases where there was any snow on the ground.  I'm quite satisfied with a green Christmas now and then and still feel perfectly Canadian!

So on to the mini harvest ... a bit of arugula and some radish were pulled from the garden on Saturday before the several hours of freeing rain covered everything later that night.

And the beans were harvested quite a while back but were finally removed from their pods while I was cleaning up the gardening baskets that seem to be all over the place.  They include more of both scarlet runner beans and Tarbais.  I still have the original harvests of these beans remaining although the black bean harvest was used long ago.

I have already received 4 seed catalogues in the mail so lots of fun reading and planning for next season coming up.  I'll pop on over to Our Happy Acres to see what others are harvesting, or doing with their harvests, this week!  Check it out.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Marina di Chiogga (Winter Squash) and Apple Soup

I love the brilliant orange of this squash!  The flesh from the Marina di Chiogga squash is a much brighter orange than the usual butternut or acorn squash. 

The orange juice also adds a bit of colour to the soup, but it is mostly from the squash itself.

A quick and hearty winter soup!

I was looking back at previous soup recipes including this Acorn Squash Soup with bacon and sage crisps and, once again, realize that every soup I make is some pureed vegetable.  I think I need to work on my soup variety.  :)

2 Shallots, diced
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Apples, chopped (I used Cortland)
4 cups cooked Marina di Chiogga Squash
4 cups Vegetable Stock
3/4 cup Orange Juice

Add the butter and shallots to a large heated pot and cook until shallots are softened.  Add the apples, squash and stock.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook 20-30 minutes then puree until smooth.  Add the orange juice, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Garnish with raw or toasted pumpkin seeds.

Monday 14 December 2015

Harvest Monday: December 14, 2015

I've been somewhat absent recently from the blog as my computer died, again.  It's been a troubling year technologically for me ... it's the second computer I've lost in about 5 months.  When will I remember to back up my files?!  Ah well, I have most important things backed up but I forget about all those photos I take each week.  Overall, I've probably lost half of 2015 gardening pics between the two computer crashes.  But at least most of them made it to a blog post.

As it turns out, I didn't bother to harvest anything last week anyway since all I have left is the kale.  So I waited until this weekend and here it is shown in the main photo ... not quite the last of it but not sure how much more it will grow.  The wonderful weather we are having has to turn colder at some point!  As much as I love the better-than-average conditions, I worry that it means winter is just delayed - meaning that when it does hit, it will stay later into the spring. That won't be good!!

Also not good right now is my car!

I hit a deer :(.  I'm totally fine as I was able to slow down a bit before impact but not so fine for the poor little deer that I hit.  Deer-vehicle collisions are unfortunately all too common in this area - especially at this time of the year; with the rutting period and hunting season, the deer are running all over the place and generally less cautious about their movements.  This is not the first time I've hit a deer, sadly to say.

But back to the kale.  I have lots of kale in the fridge from a previous harvest and now this new batch.  Luckily, I have treated myself this holiday season with a new blender to make up smoothies!  It hasn't arrived yet, but I hope to share some fun smoothie recipes in 2016 once I've figured it all out.

As always, I look forward to seeing what other folks are harvesting, or doing with their harvests, this time of year so I'll be popping over to Our Happy Acres for the weekly Harvest Monday submissions.

Monday 30 November 2015

Harvest Monday: November 30, 2015

Maybe I won't give up on growing Brussels sprouts just yet!  Okay, well these are probably half the size (or smaller) of what I would expect to get if I were buying them.  But growing my own vegetables means I have much lower expectations.   :)

Seriously though, I'm happy enough with these and growing sprouts really isn't much work plus they take up very little space in the garden (the plants can get large but they are mostly vertical).  I haven't harvested the sprouts from these plants yet but I figured the plants were about as far along as they were going to get and pulled them from the garden.  It won't be a huge harvest but enough that I'm satisfied with the results (i.e. yield versus effort).

I am definitely NOT satisfied with this next harvest although there wasn't much effort involved here either.  The picture shows 3 entire plants of Vates Blue Curled Kale.  Pathetic.  Really, really pathetic.  But it was the poor location more than anything else.  These were direct sowed back in late April!!  And this is as large as they got.  This is one of the plants ...

The area has less light than I had originally thought when digging up a garden plus it is right beside a pine tree.  I tested the pH levels early in the season and they were average, but it's not an ideal spot to be sure.  I can't imagine what I'll do with the space - probably just put grass seed down again ...

I admit it is a bit weird harvesting greens while they are completely covered in frost.  This is the first time I've grown kale this late in the season (also have radishes in the ground still but the soil was frozen so I left them alone).  And the leaves at the bottom are the last bit of Ruby Red chard from a container in the greenhouse.

And to follow up on last week's harvest, I did indeed use my micro beetroot harvest to make a pasta (I didn't have regular goat cheese so topped it with a chunk of goat's milk feta).  Very tasty!

I look forward to seeing what other folks around the globe are harvesting this week on Our Happy Acres Harvest Monday collection.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Harvest Saturday!

I'm heading out to Vancouver for a few days and didn't want to miss posting what I've harvested this week so posting it today.  I'll still try to link up with Our Happy Acres Harvest Monday collection to see what other gardeners are doing this week.

My single harvest is the last item from the greenhouse.  I had planted beet seeds quite a while back (wish I could remember when, but thinking at least 6-7 weeks ago) and not much was happening.  It's an unheated greenhouse and even though beets are okay with cooler temperatures, there just hasn't been enough sunshine or warmth for them to grow.

So I've harvested the greens!  I left on what little bit of beetroot there was so I'll probably cook them when I get back from the short trip ... maybe with some pasta and goat cheese (yes, definitely that's what I'll do)!

And just before signing off, I wanted to share a picture of a pie I made with leftover bits of roasted squash (butternut, acorn and sweet dumpling - it was tasty so I'll share the recipe at some point).

Thursday 12 November 2015

Sliced Cabbage Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Bacon

This is a great winter salad and makes enough for two large servings.  My version here is very simple, but you could also add julienned carrots or red peppers if you have them on hand to add colour and a different texture.  The dressing makes just enough for a light dressing on the cabbage but with plenty of flavour.

2 slices bacon
1 Tbsp minced shallot
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 ounce Danish blue cheese
4 cups shredded or thinly sliced cabbage

Place the sliced cabbage in a large bowl.  Crumble the blue cheese into a lidded container (to shake up your dressing) and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Cook bacon in a small saute pan.  Remove bacon when crisp and set aside on a paper towel to drain.

With the pan on a low-medium heat, add the shallots and saute 1-2 minutes until they soften and begin to colour.  Rmove from heat, quickly add the vinegar and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan.  Pour the mixture into the container with the blue cheese.  Pop on the lid and shake to combine ingredients.

Toss the cabbage with the dressing while it is still a bit warm and serve with the bacon crumbled on top.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Monday 9 November 2015

Harvest Monday: November 9, 2015

A basket of greens ... and happy to have it! 

In fact, I'm quite thrilled with this harvest of arugula.  This is the first year that I planned for greens in the fall.  Usually I plant greens (you know, lettuce and such) in the spring and they die off by September.  This year, I did a second planting of arugula, chard and escarole mid-summer.  The second planting of chard (that's Ruby Red chard in the basket) wasn't really necessary as the spring-planted chard was still producing ... so lesson learned.

I also didn't realize that arugula survived frost so well.  In fact, there have been a number of nights with freezing temperatures recently and the arugula is still in great shape!  This week's harvest of arugula is much more tender than a month ago (not sure why).

The top portion of the basket is Tuscan Kale.  I harvested a small amount for a meal I was planning, but I left a bunch just so I have something to post next week for Harvest Monday!

Pop by Our Happy Acres to see what other folks around the globe are harvesting this week.

Monday 2 November 2015

Harvest Monday: November 2, 2015

Although I will continue to check in throughout the winter with the Harvest Monday contributions at Our Happy Acres, my harvests are quickly coming to an end.  I might have something next week, but there isn't much left.  Luckily Harvest Monday's are about all things related to harvests ... including what we do with them!  It's been a while since I posted a recipe but managed to squeak one in yesterday as I sat inside watching the windstorm (remnants of Hurricane Patricia).

 As it happens, even as my harvests are coming to a close, I have managed to come up with two newcomers!  The first new crop this year are Jerusalem Artichokes.  I had planted them in the spring of 2013, my first year in this location.  Having had experience with them in the past, I am well aware of their invasive nature.  However, they don't seem to be growing at the rate I had expected them to.  There are some pros and cons to that.  Well, one pro and two cons.

Pro:  I'm not as worried now about an uncontrollable invasion that would eventually spread into my neighbour's yard.

Con: (1) They grow so poorly in this location that they never seem to flower and (2) the tubers are very small.

Assuming the small size doesn't impact the flavour/texture too much, I believe the pro outweighs the cons and I will continue in the current location.

My second new crop ... Brussels sprouts!  Oh my, they sure are a challenge to grow.  Last Monday, I announced my intent to give up on growing cauliflower (well, unless I have some seeds left, but not buying anymore!) and I believe I will officially give up on the sprouts as well (again, unless I have some seeds left).  The plant that produced these minuscule sprouts was started from seed in late March and planted outside in mid-May.  After all this time, these are the largest of the sprouts on the plant (that's just a regular soup bowl, so the largest is about 1.5-2 cm diameter).  Argghh!  I started to harvest from the bottom up and went less than halfway so there are still some left.  But they are so small, I expect not to harvest much else ... although there is a bit of a warm spell this coming week so you never know!

And my only other harvest this week are shown in the main photo (along with the sprouts) ... Tuscan Kale and two radish!!

I've almost managed to put everything away in preparation for winter ... a few more pots, garden tools, etc. here and there to put away.  Unfortunately, I still have a massive pile of soil in the driveway but my new snowplow guy doesn't seem overly worried.

Looking forward to seeing the other Harvest Monday contributions at this time of the year.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Butternut Squash and Kale Brunch Tart

I really haven't been keeping up with my recipe postings although I've made lots of new dishes lately.  Hopefully, I'll get more of them written up now that gardening season is almost done.  One of the few productive crops left in the garden is the Tuscan Kale so I thought I'd share a recent recipe using it.  Although I am still getting kale from the plants, I'm pretty much left only with the top leaves, so they are almost as much rib as they are leaf!  Here they are before and after removing the rib (stem).

Most of my tarts (those using a single pastry shell) follow the same technique ... put some savoury ingredients into the bottom of the shell, add in an egg/cream mixture, top with cheese and bake.   The combinations are pretty much endless even if you limit the ingredients to vegetarian.  In this version, I've started it off with bacon, but it can easily be omitted.

Single pastry shell
3 slices bacon (or similar amount of chopped pancetta)
75 grams kale, rib removed, then chopped (2 cups loosely packed)
1 cup cubed, cooked butternut squash
2 large eggs
2-3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup 10% cream
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Oven should be set at 400 degrees F.  Blind bake the shell for 10 minutes then set aside.

Chop bacon into 1" pieces and cook until most of the fat is rendered.  Remove all but 1 Tbsp of the fat (I just pat around the pan with a paper towel) and add the chopped kale leaves.  Toss the bacon around with the kale and cook until tender.  Allow to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl then add in Parmesan and cream.

Combine the kale with the squash and spread out on the bottom of the shell.

 Pour the egg/cream mixture over top, then finish with the crumbled goat cheese.

Bake about 30 minutes or until filling is set.  If crust starts getting too dark, finish baking with a piece of tinfoil lightly covering the tart (so it doesn't touch the filling).  Let sit for about 8-10 minutes to set properly.

Serve hot or cold with a side salad or as part of a brunch menu.

Monday 26 October 2015

Harvest Monday: October 26, 2015

Welcome to my Harvest Monday posting.  Carrots were the main item this weekend as I pulled everything I had (just over 4 pounds in total).  The majority are from a Rainbow Mix and the darker ones are the Nutri-Red; not sure why the Nutri-Red are so much smaller, maybe just a poor job thinning them out.

And this laughable harvest of cauliflower.  If I have seeds left, I might give it another go next year but I think I've pretty much given up on cauliflower.  These are as big as the heads got ...the rest were still very small when the freezing temperatures hit a week or two ago and they didn't survive.  These two little heads were the only bits that were still firm.

I also harvested some horseradish but haven't done anything with it yet.  Most of my time in the yard these days is spent cleaning up, putting pots away, etc.  I'm reorganizing the beds but not sure I'll have it all done before winter hits.

Hopefully I'll still have something to share next week.  In the meantime, I'll head over to Our Happy Acres and see what others have going on this week.

Monday 19 October 2015

Harvest Monday: October 19, 2015

Freezing temperatures (and a bit of snow) hit over the weekend.

To be honest, I am happy about it as it means I can finally pull out the flowers and (now) dead plants to prepare the garden beds before winter.

It's temporary - it's going to warm up again in the coming week.  Last Wednesday night was another frost and I decided to just harvest all of the beans and let the plants die.  I can't be bothered to keep covering them up every day or two.

Same thing with the last pumpkin plant.  Unfortunately, I still didn't get a ripe pumpkin! I hope this pumpkin is riper than the last one I harvested prematurely - it turned out to have almost no flavour at all.

I have nothing from the greenhouse this week as I'm intentionally not going inside ... I don't want to let out what little warmth there is.  I'll check it out mid-week when the temps are a bit warmer.  So my main harvests this week are root veggies: Albion parsnips and Nantes carrots.

And that's my weekly submission for Harvest Monday.  Pop on over to Our Happy Acres to see what other gardeners are doing this week.

Monday 12 October 2015

Harvest Monday: October 12, 2015

This is my submission for Harvest Monday, now hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.  It's a light week but there is still plenty on the go.  I still have a lot of parnsips and carrots in the ground and just giving them more time to size up.  I also have some beets but don't anticipate getting anything than some marbles based on the size they are now.

The pepper harvest in the main photo is from the greenhouse again.  Clockwise starting at the top:  One single Hungarian Hot Wax, a few Hinklehatz, one small King of the North, Sweet Pickle Peppers and a few Jimmy Nardello.

The rest of the week's harvest came the day before the light frost when I picked the chard and arugula.

And that's it for me this week.  Otherwise, I've been keeping busy cleaning up the garden and getting the garlic planted (see previous post). 

Sunday 11 October 2015

New Garlic (Sub) Varieties for 2016

After growing Red Russian garlic (the most common in these parts) for a number of years, I decided to try Music (along with the Red Russian) for this past season.  I thought the Music had a milder flavour, but I still liked it and the bulbs were larger than the Red Russian.  I also had some challenges in 2015 with leek moths doing some pretty serious destruction to both varieties so this wasn't the best growing year to use as any baseline measure.

I went to the Perth (Ontario) Garlic Festival in August.  I had planned to write a post about it, but found it rather dull (friends who have gone most years have said it seems to have suddenly gotten smaller).  However, I did pick up some interesting new varieties which I'll try this year.

All the garlic I'm growing is Hardneck which includes three varieties: Rocambole, Porcelain and Purple Stripe.  Since I've always grown Red Russian, I am already familiar with Rocambole.  What I didn't realize was that the Music I grew last year was of the Porcelain variety, not also a Rocambole.  That is likely why the bulbs were bigger - it seems that is typical of the Porcelains.

I've planted 4 of the 5 types into 2 raised beds.  The raised bed frames were moved from elsewhere in my garden and have just been filled with the topdressing soil I had ordered in the spring (yikes, I still have about 8 yards of soil on my driveway that should be dealt with before the first snow).  Just so I remember myself next summer when I begin the harvest, they are planted as follows:

Leftmost Bed - two rows each (L to R): Majestic Porcelain, Mennonite Porcelain and German White Rocambole. All three of these varieties were purchased at the Garlic Festival from Ken Best of Norwood Ontario.  And such huge cloves.  I had two bulbs of each variety with 4-5 cloves per bulb.

Majestic Porcelain: Creation of this garlic is credited to Paul Pospisil whose Beaver Pond Estates was just a few minutes from my previous home in Lanark County.

Mennonite Porcelain: The origin of this one is a bit more confusing but seems to have been named by Railway Creek Farms after receiving a bulb from a Madoc resident (okay this is weird, because I also used to live in Madoc so this year's garlic is like a tour of my previous residences).  They called it Mennonite to remind them where it came from - farmers in London Ontario area named the Bass Brothers.

German White Rocambole:  Can't find much about the origins of this one.

The second raised bed was filled with the Music.  I didn't have enough of my own to plant so just bought some more seed garlic (also at the Garlic Festival).  The Music is from Arran Hill Garlic Farm of Allenford Ontario.  There are too many references to the origins of Music garlic to know which is accurate but it is quite popular in colder climates.  I should have about 25 of these next summer.

I haven't planted the Red Russian and hope to get to that by next weekend latest.  All of the Red Russian came from my friend Dan (grown in Lanark County).  I'll probably put in at least 50 of these to bring me to close to 100 garlic in total.

The two planted beds were covered in straw - a must for me right after planting as my cat likes to dig into fresh dirt and I don't want the cloves getting moved around.  Within a few weeks they should start to get some good roots.  The roots and the mulch (I'll add more before the first snow) will help avoid heaving from frost.

And so that's one more garden chore (almost) crossed off my list for the fall preparation.