Monthly Archives: March 2011

trouble in paradise

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve taken down my seedlings catalogue for now. It seems it’s been giving scary warning messages, so I want to find out what’s wrong before I put it back online.

Sorry for any inconvenience, if you were planning to look through it. But if there’s something seriously wrong, I don’t want to be spreading viruses or anything….

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eat flowers

rd article

Reader’s Digest has quite a few articles about growing food this month! I was pleasantly surprised to see a page about edible flowers, one of my favourite things. It often comes as a surprise to people that they can eat the violets that grow in their lawn (if they are lucky enough to have such a thing). Pansies are also edible, and Johnny Jump-Ups, which is why I’m growing them, along with Nasturtiums and Sunflowers and Calendula and Bergamot.

Something I didn’t know, that the article taught me, is that the older rugosa varieties of roses are more tasty than the newer hybrids. I’ve been wondering about rosehips, too, and I have a feeling that if the older types are better tasting they probably also have better rosehips. So I’ll be checking out rugosa varieties, if it ever comes to the point where I’m planting a rosebush!

Because landscaping should be as edible as possible.

In another article Sara Alway writes about ‘Soil Mates’, beneficial pairings of veggies and herbs. I’d heard of growing Tomatoes and Basil together, but it wasn’t actually mentioned here. Some odder pairings were mentioned, like Spinach and Pepper, Brussels Sprouts and Thyme, and, in keeping with the edible flowers theme, Zucchini and Nasturtiums.

The article is actually condensed from her book, which looks like a fun and informative read. I might have to get me a copy, or see if the library has it.

It’s definitely starting to get way more exciting around here, with all the seedlings taking over the place and ruling my life! Today is moving day for quite a few of them. More peppers have sprouted, so I need to make space under the grow lights upstairs, so the seedlings that have finished germinating and are more hardy will be moved out to the greenhouse. I’m sure I’ll be taking photos, for those who love the baby pics.

Happy sunny day today!

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potato lasagna (grain-free!)

potato lasagna

According to hubby, it’s “an experiment worth repeating”. This is a compliment, in case you missed it. It means he liked it, which makes me happy. The girls liked it too and want it in their lunches tomorrow – yay!

Would you like the recipe? Here it is:

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Potato Lasagna (Grain-Free!)

It’s the love child of scalloped potatoes and lasagna. Measurements are approximate; everyone likes their lasagna a bit different so don’t be afraid to change it up, add spinach, that sort of thing. Make it yours!

Ingredients

6-8 medium or large waxy potatoes, like Yukon Gold

1 can of spaghetti sauce (or make your own!)

1 large tub of cottage cheese

2 eggs

300-400 g shredded mozzarella (1/2-3/4 of a large block)

1 pound ground beef (or so. your tastes may vary)

Instructions

Peel, then slice the potatoes very thin. I used a mandolin slicer set at 1.5 mm, but you could go thinner.

Rinse them under cold running water to remove any excess starch. Let drip dry while you prepare everything else.

Cook the ground beef.

Add the 2 eggs to the container of cottage cheese and mix well.

Layer the ingredients in a 9×13 pan, starting with the spaghetti sauce and moving on to the cottage cheese mixture, meat, mozzarella, more sauce, and a single layer of sliced potatoes. Repeat until the pan is full or you run out of ingredients. The very top should be a good layer of mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees, covered in foil, for at least 1.5 hours, taking the foil off for the last half hour of baking. If you have a pan with a lid you could also use that.

It will seem like the potatoes never cook; they will still feel a bit crunchy if you poke them with a fork. I found I actually had to taste them in order to determine readiness.

Let cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting and eating.

Enjoy!

Here’s the printable version:

Potato Lasagna (Grain-Free!) SKG

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happy spring

There are a few things peeking out of the soil already in my garden! I thought I’d give you a bit of a tour.

parsley

Above: parsley that grew last year is coming back again this year. Parsley is a biennial, which means it grows roots and leaves the first year, and will go to seed in the second year. I will still plant more this year, because when the plant produces seeds it has less resources to give to the leaves, so the harvest of yummy parsley leaves is way less. I want to collect seeds and also save a lot of leaves and dry them for winter, so I’ll need first year and second year parsley.

garlic

Can you see the wee garlic shoot poking out of the soil? Right in the centre of the photo. I planted roughly 30 cloves last fall, and there are about 5 that I can see coming out of the soil already on this first day of spring. I can’t wait for scapes, they’re so tasty in a stir-fry.

sorrel

This is sorrel – french sorrel to be precise. It has a sour flavour, so it’s hard to eat too much of it at once, but it’s nice to add a little bit of unique flavour to a larger salad. It’s also used in soups, where the flavour blends with everything else and it’s not too overpowering at all. It sends out a tall flowering shoot in the summertime, which often gets so heavy it just falls over. I haven’t yet saved seeds from it. They’re so tiny, and by the time they’re dry enough they’ve fallen out of the pods! I think I’ll try again this year, though. I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

walking onions

The walking onions that I planted last fall are also growing green leaves! For more information about these unusual veggies, see this older post.

oregano

Last but not least, you can see the oregano growing too, under the leaves. I still need to clean up the garden, but I’m going to wait a bit. The leaves and other detritus provides a bit of protection for the young plants, and the nights are still cold.

Thanks for joining the tour! I’d love to hear about what’s growing in your garden – leave a comment to share.

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organic stone soup

surprise me beans

Tomorrow is the Organic Stone Soup event. If you have time to come and learn more about local organic food with fun hands-on activities and family story-telling time, plus yummy organic soup, please come to Guelph! The event is sponsored by the Canadian Organic Growers. There will be a mini farmers’ market, plus some demonstrations/take-home items for the kids.

I’ll be there doing some organic gardening demonstrations. My take-home activity is a planted bean seed. In the photo above you can see my daughter modelling her trial run. I have a jar of “Surprise Me” bean seeds, which is a mix of purple, green, and yellow beans. Children will get to fill their container with soil and plant one or two of the seeds, then guess which colour the beans will be. The containers will be taped shut with masking tape so nobody ends up disappointed when their lid pops off and the contents spill all over the inside of the van.

Come if you can! Saturday, March 19, from 11 am until 2 pm at St. George’s church in Guelph: 99 Woolwich St.

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beautiful bees

honeybees

A friend sent me the link to a website full of beautiful bee photos, so I have to share!

The Bee Photographer

Such crisp, clear, close and personal shots of honeybees. I love how it brings their beauty to light. Pollinators are such an important part of agriculture. So many of our foods today would not be here if they were not pollinated by insects. Or, if they did exist, would be pretty expensive due to the manual labour that would be involved in making sure pollen made its way from the male bits to the female bits.

Honeybees are not the only pollinators; there are many other types of bees, wasps, butterflies, and miscellaneous insects that do a pretty good job of making sure we have fruits and vegetables to eat. This year I’m hoping to build myself a solitary bee house. Solitary bees are very well-behaved. They tend not to sting unless you’re actually squishing them or otherwise pissing them off. They have no honey or colony to defend. They just gather nectar and pollen to stockpile with each of the eggs they lay, so the larvae that hatch from the eggs have some food to eat.

If you drill a piece of wood with holes about 4″-5″ deep, with a 1/4″ drill bit, you can attract  solitary bees. They are reportedly great fun to watch. You can get leafcutter bees, which line the holes with perfect circles of leaves from rose bushes or other plants, and seal in the eggs with the same. Mason bees make a sort of mortar with mud to seal in their eggs.

There are other types too, which I’m hoping to learn more about. And I’m hoping to get a chance to watch them and identify a few different varieties. You can do this too in your yard or on your balcony! You’ll be making your piece of Earth more pollinator-friendly, without all the hoopla of honeybee husbandry.

But if you want to read more about the hoopla, you can check out my old honeybee blog, which I haven’t updated in quite awhile. It tells the story of my beekeeping beginnings, all the ups and downs and silly mistakes along the way.

The Healthy Honeybee

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seed starting kits for sale

little gardener

My girls had to start some seeds last week, when they saw that my kits were all ready!

another little gardener

They both started flowers. No flower seeds come with the kits, though – they raided my stash to choose their own seeds.

flower seed choices

The morning glories have come up already! They were quick. They’re annuals, which is perhaps why they germinated so quickly. I’ve never tried them before, so I’m hoping they survive to see the real outside sunshine and grow tall along some twine or a trellis. Someone was telling me about growing morning glories mixed in with pole beans – beautiful and edible, growing together and looking pretty too.

stack of seed kits

If you want a Seed Starting Kit, let me know! $35 for 17 different kinds of seeds, plus a tray to start them in, and the potting soil, and compost to plant them out with, and little label tags, instructions, and dried chamomile flowers to make a disease-preventing potion for your wee seedlings. It’s a deal.

inside the box

Here’s the seed list. Those that are not indicated organic, are at the very least untreated and non-GMO.

Indoor-Starting Seed Types:

Organic Beefsteak Tomatoes

Green to Red Sweet Peppers

Cherry Tomatoes

Organic Brandywine Tomatoes

Jalapeno Peppers

Green Bunching Onions

Organic Parsley

Organic Chives

Organic Genovese Basil

Romaine Lettuce

Slicing Cucumber

Organic Pie/Carving Pumpkin

Organic Zucchini

 

And for seeding outdoors:

Sugar Snap Peas

Organic Radish

Organic Carrots

Bush Beans

 

not what i came for

italian seed packetsI am such a sucker for new seed varieties and interesting packaging (argh, marketing!).

Today I went to buy seeds. The ones you see in the photo were not on my list, but I couldn’t resist. They were $1.99 each, and twice the size of the usual seed packet. Lots of seeds inside too. The little wee hot red peppers looked so cute I just had to buy them to try them out. And the ‘Sweet Horn’ (Corno De Toro Giallo)? OF COURSE!! Leeks, I didn’t have – but now I do! Same with the onions. I have lots of green bunching onion seeds, but none of the regular bulb style onion.

Since there’s a bit of a language barrier between me and the seed packets, I’m not sure if they’re untreated or not. I guess I’ll find out if there are any obvious treatments when I open them up, but because I’m not sure they won’t be for sale. At least not this year – if I save my own seeds then someday down the road it’s possible. For now I’ll enjoy them and keep you posted.

 

 

greenhouse shelvesAnd speaking of keeping you posted, I should say that I finished setting up the other half of the greenhouse shelves today in the scorching heat of the sun! Hubby had set everything up so I just needed to wedge the shelves into place. They set up and tear down fairly easily, and are braced on the sides of the greenhouse. Quite a nice piece of engineering, I have to say. He told me that if he was charging me what customers of his company usually pay for his engineering services, I would owe him $1,000 for the day.

I can’t wait to get them fully operational. I’m not sure how well you can tell in the photo, but the shelves have sides all the way around. This is to hold gravel/soil and a heating cable, so I can warm my seedlings from the bottom. I really want to get some seeds out there soon, as experiments, to see how well they grow. But we still need to purchase the cables, and possibly a thermostat of some sort (more engineering….).

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feelin’ hot hot hot

chilisI love hot peppers; my favourite condiment is Frank’s Hot Sauce. So I’m really looking forward to growing some amazing new hot peppers this year! I thought I’d share some old favourites and some promising new-to-me varieties that I’m planning to grow.

First, let me say that hot peppers really really like the heat. They are a plant that might actually do better in a pot on a hot hot balcony than in the ground. Because they like it hot. Just don’t forget to water them!

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Here are a few that I’m excited about for this year:

Variegated Fish Pepper. This variety of hot pepper has variegated leaves, meaning they’re mottled dark green/light green. The peppers turn every colour of the rainbow, and stripey too, before they are finally fully ripe. I am super excited to try them out!

Black Hungarian. These hot peppers were requested again this year by a gardener who tried them last year for the first time. They look a bit like jalapenos, but they’re dark dark purple, almost black. Great flavour!

Thai Hot Pepper. Tiny red hot pepper with big hot flavour. My Grandpa grows these indoors for a continual supply of heat to use in his cooking. Grandma won’t touch them.

Other hot peppers are cayenne, chili, jalapeno, chinese ornamental (still edible), and paprika.

Hopefully it will be a good year for hot peppers! I’m planning to start the seeds really soon because they need more time to grow to the right size than the sweet peppers or tomatoes.

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learning from TED

tedx

Hubby and I had a great day yesterday at the TEDx Waterloo conference. So many great speakers with ideas and challenges. I’m still digesting, but I thought I’d try to distill a bit of it for you.

There’s so much to share, but first I have to say that I was blown away by some of the experiences of the presenters. JF Carrey, who was the youngest Canadian to climb Mt. Everest. Abby Sunderland, who was just 16 when she sailed solo around Cape Horn, the Everest of sailing. Vicki Keith, marathon swimmer who swam for 3 days straight during one of her more difficult swims. Roberta Bondar, Canadian female astronaut, neurologist, photographer, who is 65 and still learning about who she is.

Amazing, inspiring people.

We learned about interacting with a computer using hand/arm gestures to move the mouse on the screen – even got to try it out in the lobby! We saw some interesting data visualization and learned that it’s important for our biological brains to visualize everything, because it really helps us understand and gives us new insight into solving problems. The hurdy-gurdy was a fascinating new instrument (well, new to me, but it’s been around for 500 years). Shelley Ambrose talked about conversations that we have, and how it’s important to communicate in ways that are understood by the other party.

There was more, too – such a full day of being challenged and playing. IQC was a sponsor – Institute for Quantum Computing – which means that we got to see a quantum computer and also learn about quantum cryptography, which is something the institute is working on. The Blackberry Playbook was available to touch and explore for a few minutes, which my hubby thoroughly enjoyed.

So now, my job is to think about how everything I experienced yesterday can be internalized and personalized and affect new changes in my life.

For starters, I was challenged by Vicki Keith to make Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals – and never give up. Shelley Ambrose challenged me to be clear about where I stand and communicate my thoughts in a way that people understand. JF Carrey validated my burning desire to make T-Shirts. Roberta Bondar spoke about change and reminded me that our human brains need repetition in order for new habits and changes to stick.

It was a fabulous day.

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Today I’m off to the Stratford Garden Festival, on all weekend if you want to check it out! I’m just visiting this year, scoping it out for possibly being a vendor next year.

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