Category Archives: My M.O. – yield!

Tomatoes in our space and outer space!

This was the first year I’ve tried my hand at “Heirloom” tomatoes. I don’t even know if I can call them that, as Heirloom is described in most places as “seeds passed down through generations”, and I just harvested my seeds last year, haha. At any rate, the idea of getting FREE seeds and using them to grow FREE food the following year really excites me. I know the word “sustainable” is overused too, but seriously, this is it!

In my usual completely un-fancy way, we took a few seeds out of some of our favourite tomatoes from last year, dried them on a paper towel, folded it up, put it in a baggy, labeled it, put it in the cupboard and promptly forgot about it.heirloom tomato seeds

AIMG_7196a few weeks ago, I tapped a few of the seeds just below the surface of some manure-y dirt and placed them in a sunny spot on my windowsill (my de facto greenhouse). Here is the result after a few weeks.
I was so excited something actually came up, although they sure don’t look like the tomato plants I usually buy (because they’re easy) and plant outside around this time.

Then, much to my delight, my youngest daughter arrives home from school with two tiny potted seedlings that look exactly like the ones growing on my windowsill and announces “these tomato plants were in outer space for 50 days!”

TomatosphereWith some prodding, I got some of the story of the project their school’s science classes are involved in, called Tomatosphere, which according to their website, “uses the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry. Students investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of food that will inevitably support long-term human space travel.”

Apparently the seeds were distributed to about 18,000 classes in Canada and the US during the 2015-16 school year. They were launched to the International Space Station on April 14, 2015 and spent 5 weeks in space before returning to earth and being distributed to classrooms, along with a package of “placebo” seeds so students could compare the germination rates of the two groups of seeds. My daughter indicated the ones from space actually grew quicker. You can learn more about the program on the Tomatosphere site.

I’m hardening off our seedlings this week, and they’ll go in the garden along with the purchased plants which are much further along. Now, how to get them to grow quicker…..

It’s May and the garden is underway

Forgive me, for I have sinned…it’s been a YEAR since my last post. I’ve had reams of material idling in my brain for months, even during winter, but as I’m sure many people can relate, life gets in the way, so I’ve focused my energy recently on my yard instead of the writing.

Grow your own veggiesI’m happy to report that the garden IS underway, with green bits popping up all over, and I continue to try to push seeds into whatever soil I can get my hands on, trying not to be too greedy and plant things too close together, as I’ve learned it doesn’t pay off in the end.

Pictured here is the back garden featuring tomatoes (from plant), kale and arugula, and the light green bits in the front are little gem lettuce that I planted last fall and we’ve been enjoying since March! I did plant the tomatoes close to them, as they’ll be finished as the tomato plants grow and start to shade them. And the little spec of yellow is a marigold – I like to pop those in between the tomato plants to keep the bugs away a bit.

The front garden is also getting a facelift this season. Until a week ago, it was one big weed pit, except for the veggie boxes of course, after having pulled out most of the grass and weeds last year and running out of time to do anything with it. Instead, this year, we’ve hired our friend’s Garden landscapinglandscape company, Ecologik, to make magic out of the dirt. Nothing fancy – just some ground cover to keep the weeds out (or down), some gravel paths and a few pavers. Our kids use the BACK yard for running around, so we had no need for a maintenance-heavy lawn, and I’ve taken up every inch of sun-touched space for growing. I’m a happy woman. I’ll post “after” shots soon!

Hopefully there will be a bit more “green” in the garden by the time the landscaping is done in a few weeks. I’ve been experimenting with trying to stretch out my intended harvest a bit more this year. Just planting a few things every week, and waiting till they pop up to plant more. It’s been 7 weeks since I put the first seeds in, our May long weekend is coming, and I usually like to have everything in by then to ensure a good harvest by August, so we’re on the right track! The best part is seeing a little bit of growth every day now, with the tiny seedlings becoming stronger and thicker, so I can start thinning them out. The daily progress is what keeps me going, and I stave off the antsy-ness by planting greens and herbs early so we can enjoy them in our salads now while we patiently await and tend to the rest of the hopeful bounty.

Hope to see you here again soon.

Quick, it’s not too late to plant!

It’s garden season, and I didn’t even get around to posting in April. Sadly, my garden is in about the same shape as the blog. I got so busy with work and life that I literally didn’t notice that the sunshine (and showers), weeds and no-jacket-weather meant I should start planting! Heck, even the local Farmer’s Market started up already this weekend!

So much for my advice about planning ahead, reviewing my past calendars or setting alerts for myself.

I did manage to get some lettuce, kale and potatoes in the ground a month ago, which are now popping up.

Growing Potatoes

Early potatoes..and my old pink gardening crocs…for good luck.

Kale seedlings

I planted spinach too, but it didn’t bother coming up. I think my seeds were old, but I’ve also discovered that spinach is finicky and only likes just the right combo of cool and warm weather. However, I will persevere, as it’s a high yielder when it does flourish, and the first thing I would choose for my daily smoothies.

In the back of my mind, the Victoria Day long weekend (May 16th this year) is always a marker for when almost everything should be in the ground if I want to be eating it by July/August. I just hadn’t been cognisant of how close it was (a week away!)

So finally this week, I rustled up my old notes, where I had noted what I had planted where and when, and made a quick plan on my calendar for what needs to happen next in order to ensure a decent harvest this year.

I usually wait to plant the heat lovers like squash to ensure a harvest when I get home from our time away in mid August, but I decided to experiment and just get to it. We should get to enjoy it before we leave, but if not, the house sitter can have her fill.

So today, I planted tomatoes (from plants as always), basil, yellow beans, purple beans (from seeds I harvested last year), half my cucumber seeds, some yellow (patty pan) squash, carrots and another round of spinach and lettuce (which I hope to plant every few weeks, time and space permitting, to ensure a continuous harvest).

So…the message here?
People are always telling me they don’t have a clue about gardening, what to plant when, and they think they need to be experts before they ever plant anything. But I maintain that it’s ALL experimentation, every year, and I am giddy and consider myself lucky when I get to enjoy anything I’ve grown. So even though I was slow on planning this year, all was not lost, and it’s really a matter of prepping your soil and just getting something in the ground. See where the sun likes to lie, what grows best where, and that knowledge will become part of your plan for next year. No PhD needed.

Are you early or late this year, or if it’s your first time growing, what have you planted so far?

What? Math? Painless Garden Planning

In years past, I had miserable garden failures because I didn’t think about it before I planted whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted. Gee, what a surprise. And while I’m all about spontaneity and experimenting, I do try to stick to a loose plan now, growing what I know will work where from experience and then allowing for a few “experiment zones”, so I can learn something new.

But how did I emerge from the overwhelming feeling of “what to do with this empty box of dirt”? Simply with paper and a pencil!

Remember Garden #2 from a previous post? It was great, but there were changes I wanted to make for the following season to maximize its potential. Plus, I was planning to add a new box beside it for this year, so I could grow even more! And that’s the great thing I’ve learned over the years – it’s not all as final as it first seems. You can make changes. You can replant. You can have some control. Garden planning So I drafted a to-scale (One centimetre = one foot) sketch of my space (graph paper borrowed from my kids’ school supplies) and started “planting”.

I knew the patty pan squash and cucumber combo worked great last year, and how much space it took up, so why not duplicate it and add more? I never did grow any zukes last year (the zuke I thought I had turned into a pumpkin and I had to move it!), so here was my chance, especially since I could grow them the same way – up a teepee of bamboo sticks! The outside of each spoke on the “wheels” above represents a seed planted (never one to tempt fate, I always thrown in a few extra and thin them to the strongest plant just in case!).

Then I had some space left over to experiment a little. I’ve never grown bush beans at this house, but I chose them because they are short so they don’t require support, and are apparently great producers if you harvest them often so more can keep coming. I just love a veggie that keeps on giving! Which brings me to the last spot in this bed, reserved for greens (lettuce), as I really could have used a little more salad at regular intervals last year and not all at once!
I actually planted it already, as it likes cooler weather, two weeks after I planted the lettuce in the back garden, and guess what we’re having for dinner tonight? Caesar salad! I may harvest them all and plant something else there later, or just keep cutting them as I go so they will continue to provide.

You’ll notice my little sketch is oriented north, and I’m trying to plant as much as I can east to west for best sun exposure (so the books say). But this space produced well last year when I planted the rows north to south, so I’m not too worried.  In short, I don’t always follow all the rules – and I’ve paid for it in the past – but I also don’t want to stress out about all the little details – or this wouldn’t be easy, fun or cost effective – some of the main reasons I enjoy it! See, that wasn’t so bad, right? I don’t know why I balked at making a quick plan for so many years. Save yourself the seasons of grief and just spend a few minutes drawing! You’ll feel like a kid again…especially when it works.

More For Your Money, Pumpkin: High Yielders I Love!

Vintage pot
I’m a big believer in yield, or being able to produce as much edible food within as small a space as possible. Some might even call me a “yield hog” because I’ll scoff at the idea of planting some veggies because their yield just isn’t big enough. Ok, I just made that term up, but why not maximize the amount of FOOD you can grow in your space? More on how you don’t even need a garden to grow food here.

I’m not really into flowers. I love my rhododendrons and azaleas because they’re already there, and all I have to do is pick off the dead stuff at the end of the season to ensure beautiful blooms next season. But otherwise, I don’t invest my time and space in pretty. And about 3 blocks away, this cool old flower gardener (who obviously has alot more experience than me) has a sign in his yard saying he’ll GIVE away his flowers if you ask (and don’t steal).

There are several high yielding veggies out there to consider growing. Here is a list of my favourites:

Cucumbers and zucchinis – or as I lovingly refer to them, cukes and zukes. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with more zucchinis than you know what to do with, but I never worry about overabundance! And I have tricks for keeping these space hogs under control! Planted with purpose, these babies will net you a cuke a day in the late summer, perfect for all sorts of salads and veggie dishes (or even pickling!).

Tomatoes – as I mention on my intro page, eating a tomato off your own vine is just about the best thing going. Especially when the price at the Farmer’s market is $4/lb. They don’t need to be cooked, they go great with above-mentioned cukes (and about every other recipe out there), they are super healthy, and are so much more sweet and juicy (and local!) when you grow them yourself! I’m always excited for the growing season to roll around so I can stop avoiding the tomatoes from Mexico at the grocery store from November to May. No offense Mexico, you’re just a little far away for my “enviro guilt”.
Tomatoes are a bit more finicky than other veggies (or technically fruit, in this case), but with a few simple tricks, you can have enough for salads and recipes every day or so.

Kale and friends – the reason I love kale so much is because it keeps producing all season! As do its other leafy green buddies like lettuce and spinach. You pinch off what you need and a week later, more is growing in that very spot. You may not (think you) like the TASTE of kale (I didn’t used to either), but it’s all about how you use it.

Beets – normally I wouldn’t put beets in my high-yield list because they only produce one “fruit” for every 6 or so square inches of space (hogs!). But they made the list because they are actually TWO foods! You can eat the fruit, as well as the greens, which are delicious steamed or sautéed with a bit of butter and garlic (note, you’ll see the butter and garlic trend a lot in this blog, as part of my M.O. is getting food to hungry grubbins FAST, and there’s no easier way than starting with butter and garlic). 🙂

Squashes – I know I covered zucchinis above (part of the squash family), but I’m adding squash to the list for another reason – the same as beets above – you can eat the fruit, AND believe it or not, the flowers! And won’t you look fancy when you dole out a fresh salad with a squash flower garnish or make tempura squash flowers for your family or guests!
Pumpkins land in this category as well, but they’re even better because they produce a ton of flesh, flowers AND SEEDS – all edible! They don’t get their own bullet point because they require an equal abundance of space to grow in, but you’ll get mega bonus points from your kids when they can brag that they grew their own jack o’lantern for Halloween.
Another high yielding favourite is the lesser known scaloppini or patty pan squash. These little delights produce many bright yellow fruits from a single plant like other squashes, and the bigger they grow, the more food they provide. Similar to cucumbers, you can net a squash per day at harvest time in as little as 2 square feet total! Plus, they’re delicious and adorable.

Scallopini summer squash
– as mentioned in my post about “free” space, when Rhubarb takes hold, it can take OVER and produce a lot! But it’s at the bottom of my list because it has less recipe options and is a bit of an introvert – it needs a fair bit of its own space to grow and doesn’t much like neighbours. 😉

Herbs – planting perennials like rosemary, chives and mint (on your balcony, close to your kitchen) can yield you fresh herbs to use in recipes for months at a time.

Which of these high yielders would be a hit on your table?

Planning + Magic = Food

If you’ve ever grown anything yourself, you’ll understand the feeling you get when the seedlings poke their heads out of the seemingly barren ground (for a few days, they seriously look like chickens hatching, trying desperately to break through the earth). Year after year, I get the same sense of shock and excitement like, “Wow, it’s working! I might actually be growing some food here!”.

This is my front yard garden (Garden #2) around mid-season last summer, when the seedlings were established but there was no actual food being harvested yet (except for some baby beet tops and kale leaves).

Garden #2 mid season

Everything looks pretty under control, right? Everything neatly labeled in their respective rows?

Well, I can only take partial credit for the outcome, but here was my “yieldy” thinking (and the equally inherent spontaneity) behind what’s happening.

Beets – I planted the beets toward the middle because once they’re grown and pulled from the ground, then you can plant more in that space. I chose more cucumbers for the 2nd planting, because I wanted as much as I could get for salads in August and September! There was a row of carrots in there as well. They hadn’t come up yet, but same concept.

The squashes and friends – I learned from experience that these guys tend to take over and require a lot of space, but they also produce a lot, so I maximize the space by training the cucumbers to grow up instead of along the ground. All they need is some support (I have used everything from bamboo sticks to old rakes or anything tall and skinny I can find), for their little “tentacles” to wrap around and keep growing.

The patty pan (or simply, summer) squashes grow more like a bush than a rising vine. It needs about 2 square feet, but the one plant netted me at least 20 squashes (I lost count when I started giving them away to the neighbours). As I’d never grown this before, it was a complete fluke that I gave it the right amount of space and it didn’t take over my entire garden. But now I know. And now you know. 🙂

I’d never grown pumpkins before either, but I allowed for some “experiment” space on the edge of my garden, and considering the sprawl at our local pumpkins patches, I suspected these guys would need some space. There was nothing but grass beside them, so I just encouraged them to head right….and oh, they did.

Ok, ready? Don’t laugh, but this is what that same garden looked like after I came home from two weeks away in August.


As you can see, it was so tightly packed, you couldn’t fit another thing in there.
But the kale was still holding its own and not being shaded in the middle. The cucumbers and squash were producing like crazy, and the pumpkins were doing what they were supposed to – heading right…almost into the neighbour’s yard!

But I never worry about overproduction, as I’ve learned I can always do some thinning. But surprisingly I didn’t need to do any thinning. I just started picking. And eating.

And this is when I got seriously excited about the amount of food I could actually grow in a relatively small space. I felt happy and proud, and like I had a superpower that I never knew existed (like I was the one providing the sun and water, haha). That’s when I started documenting my “journey”. And here we are.

Have a gardening success story to share? Do leave a comment.



Bitten by the Growing Bug – Now What?

Front yard garden
Once I’d had some success with Garden #1  in my back yard, the bug had really bitten, and I was dying to grow more! My walkabouts in the neighbourhood told me that you can grow almost anywhere there’s sun exposure, so I decided to give it a go in the front yard.

Some people are adverse to gardening in their front yards for fear of their yard looking “ugly” or of what their neighbours might think. Well, I’m lucky enough to have a hedge surrounding my front yard so no one can even see it! BUT, where I live, it’s perfectly acceptable to grow whatever you like in your front yard, because we pay ridiculous prices for real estate here in Vancouver, so we are more inclined to make use of every bit of square footage!

Here are some basic steps I took in planning my own new garden, translated into some easy tips to help you get through that overwhelming feeling of “where do I start”!

1. Where: Simplest method: Watch the available spaces you have for a few days in spring and pick the spot or spots that get the most sun during the day.
Slightly more advanced: I’ve learned it’s ideal to get 5 or more continuous hours of sun exposure for growing. For some spots, this may be tricky to assess in Spring when the sun’s position is different than in summer. But most west facing spaces will get enough sun as long as they’re not blocked by anything.

2. How big: I chose a 3′ x 8′ size because typical wood ties come in 8′ lengths, and 3′ is about as wide as I can reach without stepping in the garden. But just use whatever you have, as long as it’s less than 3′ wide or has a space to walk in between.

3. What to plant: I started out planting what I thought would grow most easily, for fear of not getting any actual “food”, but I highly recommend planting what you (and your family) like and will actually eat. I see too many gardens out there going to seed later in the season because no one is harvesting the food from them. This is one of my biggest pet peeves – it’s so counterintuitive to the whole notion of growing your own food!

After choosing what you “like”, I always go for veggies that I know will yield a lot = more food for you!

4. When: Some veggies like cool earth and some like warm, and there’s myriad resources out there with this info, depending on your climate and locale. I don’t even try to memorize (or follow) it all, but basically, you just need enough time between the last winter/spring frost (temps that go below zero at night) and the first fall/winter frost in your area. Most veggies take between 60-90 days to grow where I live because it’s a little colder up here. Our last frost is usually in late March and first frost by about late October. That’s more than 6 months in between – plenty of time!

Typically lettuces like to be planted early (by April) and finicky things like basil like to be planted late when it’s hot (I finally learned this after several years of basil failing to grow!). Other veggies prefer the in-between. And if you plant in stages, you can plant more than once a season after the first item is finished. Are you sensing a theme here yet? Yes, more food!

My biggest theme is don’t worry too much! Just by using some basic tips, you’ll at least get started, and then you can replant or revisit as you go. I’m still learning with every new seed.