Category Archives: One veggie at a time

Learnings from the dirt: A mid-season garden review


On exactly the same day two years ago (unintentionally), I wrote a “mid season review” post, complete with proud photos of everything growing so successfully. I just re-read it, and to my total surprise, the weather has been similar and the garden is fairing almost exactly the same. I could have sworn that we’ve had less sun and more garden annoyances this year, but it appears that an “un-seasonally” hot May and miserable June are actually quite standard around here. So I’ve had a closer look at what’s worked, and what I could learn from the problems and failures. To start, here’s what I planted when:

Early – mid April – Spinach, Chard, Arugula, Kale, Basil (indoors), Tomato (indoors), PeppersKale
Late April – Potatoes, Kale #2, Spinach #2, Carrots, Little Gem lettuce, Chard #2, Cukes, Zuchs
Garden in July
Early – mid May – Yellow bush beans, purple beans (from seeds we started harvesting 4 years), tomatoes (from plant) and tomato from last year’s self-harvested seeds, indoors.Tomato From Seed

Little Gem lettuce

Little Gem lettuce – soft like butter lettuce

And here’s a few things I learned or have discovered consistencies with:

  1. Lettuces almost always deliver! If planted early and continuously, you can have greens for your salad all summer, and into fall.
  2. Spinach and chard don’t! I love spinach in my smoothies, but when planted in April with a hot May, they seem to either not come up, or start to flower (bolt) in the heat before they even grew larger enough to eat. I guess I need to plant spinach FIRST and EARLY. The chard is still limping along, but after 2 months and no real discernible growth, I have to assume the same rule applies.

    Flowering Potatoes

    Flowering potato plant

  3. Give everything enough room. I really thought I’d learned this previously, but I can’t help it – I get greedy or sometimes I forget how much space each veggie needs. I figure I’m still ok as long as I thin the kale and carrots out to about 12″ and 2″ apart respectively, by the time they’re a few inches tall.
  4. Aphids seem to like kale and fruit trees, and ants like everything else!
    (note: another post to come on this subject!)
  5. Not all potatoes flower – I figured there was something wrong with my first plantings, as they didn’t flower, and then I remembered that in a panic to get something in the ground, I just threw in some old potatoes left over from the cupboard. I also forgot to hill them up after 4 weeks and just did it recently at about the 8-10 week mark (I didn’t keep track – what can I say, I’ve been busy this year). I only discovered this once my second planting (from a bag of purchased potato seedlings) started to flower – they’re so pretty, but if they both produce good spuds, I guess it doesn’t matter!  

    Finally, here’s a few photos of some relatively happy spaces in the garden around mid-season. Not too much to harvest just yet other than kale and lettuce, but with a little more sun, we should be on our way. Enjoy!

    Growing basil

    Hurry up tomatoes, so I can make tomato-basil-feta salad!

    Zucchini flowers

    First zucchini flowers – love watching them open up

    Non prickly blackberry bushes

    Our non-prickly blackberry bushes (unlike the weedy ones you find beside railway tracks ;-). The passersby seem to like them as much as we do, but hey….spread the love.

    Harvesting blackberries

    Blackberries and raspberries in my bowl – yay! The blackberries are 1-1/2″ long, I kid you not!

    Hydrangea

    Although not a flower gardener, I just can’t ignore the gorgeous hydrangeas in the yard right now!

 

 

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.

Tomato Feta Salad

Harvest time – Tomato Feta Salad Recipe


While I have been harvesting veggies from the garden since June, I plant most of it to harvest mid-August and beyond. This might be a little later than most, but we are usually away for the first two weeks of August, so when I return, there is a bounty awaiting me. In fact, this blog was born out of my excitement for the seemingly endless supply of fresh produce I discovered upon returning home this time last year.Tomato harvest

This is my (three plant) tomato garden ready to harvest. I hoisted up the runaway vines with sticks and strips of fabric to get them off the ground (making the soil easier to water without getting the leaves wet). Grape tomato harvestGrowing basilSo Day 1 back in the city, I set about feeding myself almost solely from my yard, and the first thing I made was a delicious Tomato salad with the fresh, juicy, sweet tomatoes and fragrant basil that ripened to perfection while I was away.
My motto is to keep it simple, so most of my day-to-day recipes contain about 5 ingredients or less, which you can literally pluck and throw together in minutes. Here’s my favourite that I’ve been enjoying variations on every few days.Tomato Feta Salad Ingredients

What you’ll need:
As many cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, as you like (as you can see, my recipes are very specific. This was about a pint).

Basil leaves, chopped (maybe 10 large leaves – enough to spread around).

A hunk of feta cheese (more or less to your taste), crumbled.

1/4 red onion, chopped (more or less to your taste, and I like mine chopped small).

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar (red wine and other vinegars work too).

Salt and pepper to taste

Ok, that’s technically 8 ingredients, but salt and pepper don’t really count – don’t they go in every recipe? And olive oil and balsamic vinegar – really? They’re almost one ingredient.

Throw everything together in a bowl, mix and voila! Tell me it isn’t one of the tastiest salads you’ve had! Tomato Feta Salad

Progress: A Mid Season Photo Gallery


Well! Here we are in July already! I figured now was a good time for a review of all that’s gone on in the garden so far this season – complete with “progress to date” photo gallery.

It seems so early to even be eating from my garden yet, as last year the abundance all happened in late August, but really, that’s only 6 weeks away and there’s lots of growing still to do. And while I’m still experimenting, I did do some more timing-type planning this year to try for a longer “eating” season, and so far, it’s (mostly) working.

I started planting on April 12th to be exact, a bit late really in most peoples’ books, but I like a later harvest in the hot days of late summer. Just spinach and some lettuce to start, peas and potatoes a week later, with kale and more lettuce the week after that. I only know this because, for the first time ever, I scribbled in my calendar with a sharpie whenever I planted this year. Whatever works!

In the gallery below, the “early on” photos were from about mid-May, around my second favourite stage of the season – the seedlings are such an adorable little burst of victory!
And you can likely guess what my favourite stage is, right? Eating!

We got to harvest the spinach first – it came so quickly, but low and behold, it was so hot in May that we only got through 2/3 of it before it bolted! We do get hot spells in May now and again, and then “June-uary” is usually rainy and colder. So next year, I’ll start the spinach earlier, really I will! In fact, I’ll start it again soon, so I can have spinach for my smoothies in fall and winter!

Next came the lettuce, and then the kale. I planted a fair bit, as we eat lettuce and kale almost every day in our salads and smoothies. I thinned a few out, and the rest I’ve just been harvesting the outer leaves, and as promised but always to my surprise, they are growing back!
I got a LITTLE more kale than I could handle, so I just steamed it up, pureed it with the hand blender, froze it in ice cube trays and put in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for later. This time, I actually measured and surprisingly, a whole cup of fresh spinach makes about 1 cube frozen! Just pop one cube in your blender and you’ll have the right amount of greens for your next green smoothie. I have LOTS of great things to say about Simple Green Smoothies, but it’s too much for this post, so I’ll just link to them here and leave it for another day!

The herbs have started to come, and my favourites are the ones I can put in cocktails, like mint for mojitos!

I don’t usually plant peas, and may not again, but my sister gave me some seeds from last year, so how could I turn her down?! They take up a lot of space for a small harvest, but they are so sweet, and the kids love shelling and eating them straight from the garden, so I sacrificed some space this year for this lovely treat. The peas are almost done now, so I’m hoping to plant something else there in its place in a week or two.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what HASN’T gone well in the garden so far. Humph.

I tried a bag of mushroom manure in one of the front boxes this year, and guess what mostly grew there? Right……mushrooms. Almost exclusively. Arggghh. So I re-fertilized, threw in some animal manure and replanted chard, spinach and a row of carrots around mid June. It might have been too late, and the soil may have been suspect, but my fingers are crossed. Not all of the seeds have come up, so something is definitely a little off in that box.

My cukes, squash and carrots have been in the ground for 5 weeks already, near each other, and they seem very small to me. Hmmm. I left lots of room for the patty pan squash, but I think I gapped out and planted the cukes and zukes way too close together.
Solution: get out a few pots and transplant them elsewhere so the strong seedlings don’t go to waste!

The beans are doing fine, and are mostly ornamental anyway, as I just grow them in pots or let them climb the fence and don’t allow too much space for them, and I’ve never grown potatoes before, but aside from the odd yellow leaf, I’m still hopeful they will produce!

And lastly, it’s the glorious tomatoes that I’m really holding out for, and like the rest of my garden, I planted them in succession so I could enjoy them longer. One in May, two in June. And to my delight, exactly 60 days since she went in the ground, I glimpsed the first ripe little gem this morning.

Time has gone so fast, I can’t believe it’s 12-1/2 weeks into the season already. I do wish a few things were further along, but I’m trying to let go and just trust they will provide.

What’s happening in your garden today?

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
Rhubarb
– 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?