Monthly Archives: September 2010

honey

pail of honey

This pail of honey was extracted in my beekeeping mentor’s honey house. It’s not really a complicated process, but for a bit more explanation and photos please visit my other blog:

The Healthy  Honeybee

room to grow

seedlings on deck

For most of this past spring, this is what my deck looked like: it was covered in veggie seedlings soaking up the sun. Can you see why my greenhouse wish came true?

installing vent openers

Here’s my hubby, installing the automatic vent openers in the greenhouse. He likes to use the deck for a good BBQ every now and then. Come to think of it, I think I have a photo of him and the BBQ from this spring….. yep. Here it is:

bbq island

Not a lot of room there. He had to move a few trays to be able to stand in front of the BBQ.

I also wrecked a good portion of his nice-looking grass when I built Big Bertha.

big bertha

Big Bertha - an oversized cold frame

dead grass

dead grass in the aftermath of Big Bertha

I probably have the most patient and understanding husband in the universe. He totally got why I needed a greenhouse. I’m planning to increase my seedling production this year by a factor of about 6-7. We don’t have enough decks for that kind of growth, so obviously the solution is to install a greenhouse.

Living things struggle when they don’t have enough space; plants need room for leaves and roots. If you look at the first photo again, you’ll see a white tray by the rubber boots. It’s filled with brassica seedlings – I think Collard Greens, but could also be Cabbage. They look similar at that age. If you look at the black tray with square holes right behind it (farther toward the top of the pic), you’ll see brassica seedlings there too. Compare the size difference – the ones in the white tray are twice the size at least. The reason why? Space. The seeds were all sown at the same time. The lucky ones in the white tray were transplanted to give their roots more room. You can see the effect that had: they are some pretty nice-looking seedlings.

I am so incredibly excited to have a real greenhouse in my backyard that I can stand up in! I look forward to spreading my roots and establishing this kitchen garden business. Thanks to everyone who reads and encourages and challenges me to follow my passions. I’ve got room to grow.

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pumpkin harvest

squash patch

It’s that time of year – the squash and pumpkin vines are starting to die back and reveal the hidden goodies underneath! Looks like most of what I planted was pumpkins. The yellow ones are spaghetti squash, very tasty with a white sauce made of macadamia butter. If you look closely you can also see some butternut squash hiding in there too. It was pretty exciting this year: I lost all the labels on my squashes, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was planting, and how much of each I would get. One of my problems/issues/quirks is that I always plant way more seeds than I need. So I had a whole tray of seedlings, mixed kinds and amounts, and only space in the garden for about 20 of them (out of around 60). I randomly chose a bunch and put them in, and this is the result! I’ll take it. I like pumpkin. And spaghetti squash. And butternut squash. There’s also a grey-blue-green pumpkin:

green pumpkin

These have dark orange flesh and are very tasty.

I recommend this approach if you have a sense of adventure and like surprises. Grow more than you need, and choose randomly from  your tray. It’s loads of fun.

Alternatively, if you are not the type to appreciate surprises like this, I would recommend labeling your trays really well.

What’s your favourite squash? Any good recipes out there?

saving some for later

plums to be dehydrated

Yesterday I washed and sliced a sinkful of plums and put them in the dehydrator. 24 hours later, we have delicious fruit candy with a bit of a sour taste – it hits the kids’ taste buds right in the sweet/sour spot that all kids seem to have. And the only ingredient is plums.

These are no ordinary plums, either – we get them from a local supplier who picks them up in Niagara, from an almost-organic farm. Normally these types of fruits (think peaches, pears, plums) would get sprayed about 15-18 times in the growing season with all sorts of chemicals. This makes me shudder – and sometimes I get an itchy rash from conventional fruit.

These fruits from the local Niagara farmer are occasionally sprayed – maybe 5 times – and never within the window of time when they’re being picked. The farmer uses organic methods in other ways, even though he’s not certified – he feeds the soil lots of great compost and manure and uses whatever organic methods he can. He only sprays when he absolutely must in order to save his crop. He’s still replenishing the soil from all the years of depletion that preceded him.

I am happy to support his almost organic farm – because this fruit doesn’t bother me like regular fruit does. I don’t get tingly itchy lips when I eat it. And it’s so tasty!

 

overwintering hot peppers

chili pepper in a pot

Before the downpour this morning, while it was still just sprinkling, I was out feeding my chickens and noticed that one of my chili pepper plants was looking particularly full of flower buds. It’s now halfway through September, so in order to take advantage of all these blooms I potted it up and put it in the greenhouse. Eventually even the greenhouse will be too cold, so I’ll bring it in the house for the coldest parts of winter. I’ll keep it near the heater vent, both for heat and for air movement – this will help a bit with pollination, but I will probably also take a soft paint brush to all the flowers too – just gently brushing each one every other day or so when they’re open.

This is something I learned from my grandpa – he has successfully overwintered hot pepper plants and kept them alive for 5 or more years, still producing hot peppers all through the seasons. I’ve had some luck myself; in the picture below is a jalapeno pepper plant that I overwintered for one winter. Unfortunately it didn’t make it through the second – I’m not sure what the problem was – but I’m going to try again with the chili pepper plant.

potted jalapeno

See all the flowers? It was a very prolific plant!

If you want to try this yourself, be sure to use potting soil mixed with some composted manure to fill in the extra space around your plant roots. It’s ok to have a bit of garden soil in there, like what’s holding the roots of the plant, but potting soil is best for pots because it allows the roots to breathe a little better than garden soil does. Three things a plant needs from soil: Air, Water, and Nutrients. Too much or too little of any of these can cause problems.

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Thanks Erin for commenting on yesterday’s post – I’ll contact you about getting you the Lemon Basil seeds!

seed filing system

seed shoe boxes

Here’s my super-not-organized seed filing system – two shoe boxes. Oh, and add a few jars of bean seeds and plates of onion sets and date seeds and the dried lemon basil hanging from the ceiling in my office. I think it’s time to get organized. But how? I’m not sure the best way for keeping track of seeds, other than boxes. Some seeds are grouped according to type – the tomatoes are the best example – but others can get confusing, like the large ziplock bag of ‘herb seeds’, and another one that is ‘flower seeds’. The question is, do I keep the calendula and pansy seeds separate from other flower seeds, since they’re edible? Do they then become herbs, or vegetables?

It’s obvious I need some better way to handle this, before I start growing thousands of seedlings to sell! There’s so much to do these days; all the behind the scenes prep work for setting up this business. It’s been fun so far, figuring out the facebook page and twitter, and getting into this blogging groove. I’m getting some 1″ pins printed, as promo/sale items, which I’m really excited about. I still need a business card and possibly a print newsletter – I’m thinking of producing something in hard copy – and many other things that are swirling around in my consciousness.

What would you like to read about in a blog or newsletter?

Leave me a comment and I’ll send you some of the lemon basil seeds that are hanging from my ceiling.

dried lemon basil

surprise me beans

surprise me beans

I can’t imagine a garden without beans. It’s unthinkable. My favourite vegetable – green beans when they’re still thinner than a pencil – so yummy. This year, and in previous years, we’ve grown three colours of snap bean: purple, green, and yellow. We like to mix the colours. The purple ones turn green when cooked, but it’s a darker shade of green than the green beans, so there’s still this variegated sort of look to the pile of beans on the dinner plate.

The purple beans also serve a useful function when freezing beans. Blanching them first is a required step; usually they’re boiled for a minute or two to halt the enzymatic processes within the beans so they last longer in the freezer. If you have a few purple beans in the pot, you will know when they’ve been blanched long enough because the purple ones turn green. Handy dandy.

Because I like my green beans skinny, it’s easy to miss the perfect picking stage. But the beans don’t go to waste. If they get too big, I let them keep going until they are big and bulgy – and from there they will dry out and become the dry bean seeds that you see in the photo at the top. My girls helped me shell these from their dry flaky pods, and the cat decided the old dry pods make great pounce toys. It was a family event, saving these seeds. And next year it will most likely be a family event planting them again in the garden.

We planted all three bean colours, which means that the seeds from them will not necessarily produce according to their parent types due to cross-pollination. In previous years after planting the mix, I’ve gotten green beans with purple flecks! Fun. We call them ‘surprise me beans’ because you never know what you’re going to get. Normally I could tell you that the black and brown mottled seeds will produce green beans, and the pale violet-coloured seeds will produce purple beans. However, since they’re not true seeds, they could be any one of purple, green, or yellow – or maybe something else. Like violet. We had those one year too!

home grown meat

homegrown chickens

My baby chicks are not babies anymore! They are getting very close to harvest time. The rooster is the biggest of the bunch, as you might be able to tell from the photo. These four are what I have left from the six I started with. For some reason I ended up with two that didn’t make it. There was no sign of foul play (example: neighbor’s cat), so I can only assume they died of something natural, like a heart attack or something. That’s a hazard with this breed – they are bred for quick weight gain, which tends to cause heart attacks and systemic problems that the older varieties don’t have. I’m happy with four for now, because I’m planning to learn how to harvest them myself. (Starting small is good!) My parents-in-law are experts; they’ll be showing me how to do things.

Quick cost analysis: So far I’ve spent about $44 on the birds, which will be about $11 per bird. Considering organic pastured chicken bought whole tends to go for about $20 or more per bird, depending on weight, I think I’m doing alright. Once the birds are butchered and weighed, I will have a more accurate cost per pound.

Why am I growing chickens in my garden?

First, you need to know that I like to try new things. That’s just as big a reason as any kind of organic environmental cost-effective excuse I can give you. The “Oh Cool” factor is just as big if not bigger. Yes I’m cheap and yes I want to eat organic meat and yes the chickens are happier when given room and dirt to scratch in. But ultimately, I love to show people new and crazy things. So… here they are! Chickens in my backyard. Happy chickens eating bugs and scratching in the dirt.

Second, I’m an omnivore. I like my veggies, but I also like my meat. Without meat my body does not function well. (I won’t go into detail here.) So, in my kitchen garden where I grow food, I thought I’d grow meat as well as veggies. Meat is food. Let’s grow some.

Third: It saddens me to think that people today have such a disconnect between their food and where it comes from. I’m hoping to help educate whoever wants to learn more about where food comes from. I know not everyone can grow their own meat, but in my small part of the universe, perhaps people could come see my chickens and connect with what the meat looked like before it was a cold slab of flesh in their fridges.

Would you grow meat in your garden if you had the room?

babies

baby basil

There’s something about seedlings that compels me to take care of them. I’ve loved starting seeds for as long as I can remember, and I’m thrilled to be starting a business that features organically-grown seedlings at its core. The sowing of seeds, the watering and waiting, the joy of surprise when checking on them one morning and finding that they have sprouted overnight – I’m addicted! What better way to feed the addiction, than share it with everyone else who wants to play too.

The photo of the basil seedlings was taken this spring, when I was growing seedlings for myself and for the Seedling Sale at Little City Farm, and for Bailey’s Local Foods, a food buying club. I had so much fun – it was hard work, but I enjoyed it – and I’m hoping to expand the operation to grow A LOT MORE. I will be opening my home greenhouse on Saturdays in May and June to sell seedlings and garden packages. I will be promoting myself more (see facebook page at right). I will be growing waaaaayyyyyyyy more seedlings (hooray! They’re so cute when they’re babies). In the coming months I will be pestering everyone I know, because I want to know what people want to grow in their gardens.

If you have suggestions, please make them heard!