kitchen garden

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mint and pineapple mint

dried mint and pineapple mint for winter teaMy fingers smell amazing right now, because I just finished scrunching dried mint into these jars. And not only Mint, but Pineapple Mint as well. The Pineapple Mint is a variegated fuzzy leaf – here’s a garden pic from spring on my Instagram – and it smells wonderful!


I love having homegrown herbs on hand to make tea in winter. I’ve also got Indian Lemongrass in my cupboard, and some wild nettle that I foraged this past spring. Mint is super easy; in fact, it will take over your garden more and more every year if you don’t keep an eye on it and pull it out where you don’t want it. One tiny plant – or even just a clipping from a plant – will last for as many years as you want it to.


Another nice thing about mint is that you don’t need a fancy dehydrator to dry out the leaves – just spread them on a screen or rack and wait until they’re crispy. You can see the stems in my jars too – it’s easier to dry on a rack when you keep the stems and leaves attached.


If you want to start mint from seed, get some good potting soil and some sort of cover for the pot you’re starting it in. Plastic wrap works, or even putting the whole pot in a plastic bag after you’re done planting and misting the surface. It’s important to keep the seeds warm and moist if you want them to germinate well, so find the warmest spot in your house to keep them. Once they’ve sprouted, take off the plastic and put them under lights. And don’t forget about them, because they will dry out super fast once the soil is open to the air.


If you have a friend with a mint plant who is willing to share a sprig or two, you can put the stems in water for a week (or until roots start to grow) and then into a pot of soil. This is much easier than starting from seed! When weather permits, plant them outside. Mint is fairly hardy, so you can plant it out before the last frost date. However, if it has lived indoors for a long time you might want to wait until after the last frost date for your region.


I’m always happy to answer any garden questions you may have; feel free to follow my SKG page on Facebook or find me on Instagram or Twitter. Happy Gardening!



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hardening off seedlings

hardening off greenhouse seedlingsThis has been the coldest spring I can remember. The sides of my greenhouse have been rolled up twice, maybe three times. Usually they’ve been open much more than this, and the seedlings have had a chance to get used to the outdoors before being sold.

At the seedling sale today, I’ll be telling people that they need to harden them off before planting them outdoors so the plants don’t go into shock.

The weather is not really ok for tomatoes and peppers and other heat-loving plants anyway, so they’ll have to be kept indoors at night anyway for a few more nights. Keep an eye on temperatures!

How to Harden-off Seedlings

There are a number of ways you can do this; I’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Don’t leave them outside at night unless the temps are above 10C. They’re not used to being cold.

2. Put them out into direct sunlight for an hour or two, then move them into a shaded location for a few hours (or vice versa – if you have a shady area that gets a few hours of sunlight, put them there and leave them). Do this for a few days.

3. Gradually increase the amount of time they spend in the sun over the course of 5-7 days.

4. When you transplant them into the garden, try to pick an overcast day OR plant them in the evening so they can recover from the shock.

Happy gardening!



soil texture sedimentation test

It’s good to know what you’re working with in terms of soil texture and structure. There’s a simple home test you can do to determine what type of soil you have in your garden, called the soil sedimentation test. It will tell you the percentages of sand, silt, and clay that you have in your soil. These percentages can then be used to find the overall soil type via the soil texture triangle chart at the end of this post.

Why is this important? Well, the soil texture can tell you a few things about your soil. For example, clay is able to hold helpful nutrients in the soil, and exchange them with plants. Sand and silt do not have this capability. So even though many gardeners tend to groan at the thought of clay in the soil, it’s actually a very useful component of soil and can help you grow nutritious food if it’s treated right. Because of its high nutrient-holding capacity, you can add more amendments than if you had a sandy soil (as long as you add the right ones!). Sandy soil doesn’t hold nutrients nearly as well, so it would be a waste to spend money on amendments that will just be washed away in the next rainfall.

To find out your soil’s texture:

Fill a 1L mason jar 1/3 full with soil.

soil texture sedimentation test 1


Add cold water until the jar is 3/4 full.

soil texture sedimentation test 2

Add 5 tablespoons of liquid dish soap.

soil texture sedimentation test 3

Screw the lid on tight and shake vigorously for 10-15 minutes.

soil texture sedimentation test 4

Set the jar down and wait at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

soil texture sedimentation test 5

You will see banding in the jar as the layers of sand, silt, and clay separate. Measure the height of the sediment in the bottom of the jar, then measure the height of each different section to determine the percentages of each. This will tell you what type of soil you have when you chart it. In this case, I had 4.5 cm of sediment at the bottom of the jar. Find each percentage on the chart below, and draw a line straight through the triangle at each of the percentages. Where they intersect in the triangle will tell you what type of soil you have. For example, if you have 60% sand, 30% silt, and 40% clay, the area where they intersect is labelled ‘sandy loam’. That’s the description of your soil type.

soil texture triangle

Analyzing Your Soil

Once you know the type of soil you have, you will know more about the water holding capacity, air supply, and nutrient holding capacity of your soil.

Water is held in the soil by nature of the distance between the soil particles as well as the total surface area of the particles. The greater the surface area, the more water can adhere to the particles. Water’s two important properties, adhesion (to minerals and other particles) and cohesion (to itself), cause it to be held in the soil. Silt has a smaller particle size than sand, so it will hold more water due to the smaller particles having a greater surface area if compared to the same quantity of sand. It’s a larger particle size than clay, so it will give up water more readily. To recap: Clay = excellent water holding capacity, sometimes too good because it won’t give it up to plants. Silt = great water holding capacity, AND it will share more readily with plants because it doesn’t hold the water as tightly as clay. Sand = poor water holding capacity. Water tends to run right through sand, and if your soil has a high sand content, it will behave very similarly.

Pore space is the space between particles of soil. It tells us about the air supply to plant roots. The larger the pore space, the more air can reach the plant roots. Silt has a moderate level of air content. The pore space between particles is larger than with clay soils, but smaller than with sand. The water will drain out of pores when the force of gravity is greater than the force of cohesion (see above), leaving air behind. The large particles of sand create large pores that allow for good air flow, and the small particles of silt create small pores for air flow through the soil. Clay has much smaller particles, which doesn’t leave as much room for air to flow to plant roots. This also relates to compaction – if a soil is highly compacted, it will have very poor air supply due to the compression of the particles.

As already mentioned, clay is a superstar when it comes to holding nutrients in the soil, particularly positively charged nutrients like calcium and magnesium and potassium. That’s because clay has a negative electrical charge. Sand and silt do not have this capability. So the higher the clay content of your soil, the more nutrients it can hold. The sedimentation test will not tell you what kind of nutrients you have in your soil, or if indeed you have any. The negative charges in your clay might be filled with hydrogen, in which case you will have a very acidic soil. The only way to know for sure what’s in your soil is to get it tested at a lab. But, you at least know that you have the capability of holding good nutrition if you know you have a high clay content.

If you’re interested in testing your soil for nutrients (sending a sample away to a lab) and receiving a full analysis, I’m happy to offer my services.

Soil Analysis

– organic recommendations by me – Sarah Hemingway
– tested by SGS Laboratories
– find out exactly what your soil needs for balanced nutrition
– only add what’s missing
– full nutrition in the soil = full nutrition in the food you grow and eat

Please contact me (LINK) for more information.


using strawberry leaves

strawberry plant

Now that the cold weather is upon us, my everbearing strawberries are finally done. There are some little berries on the plants, but they won’t ripen in the cold. It’s time to cut them down and throw some mulch over them for the winter.


Strawberry Leaf Tea

Every once in awhile I like to make ‘Garden Tea’, which is really just a compilation of leaves from the garden. Mint, raspberry leaves,  and strawberry leaves feature prominently in this tea, plus whatever else happens to be around. If I’ve just been foraging and have some fresh or dried nettle leaves, I’ll add those too. When we’re out camping, often I’ll just gather the wild raspberry and strawberry leaves (and mint if I’m lucky) and make a tea from those. It’s very soothing, this blend of flavours.


Leafcutter Bees Use Strawberry Leaves Too

leafcutter bee holesIt’s a good sign for the garden, especially your fruiting plants like squashes and cucumbers and peppers, when you see perfectly round circles cut into the edges of plant leaves. It may not look polished and spotless in the garden when this happens, but it’s good news. Leafcutter bees are good pollinators. They use the cut-out circles to line the narrow spaces where they lay their eggs. So if you see this kind of semi-destruction, don’t panic, it’s great news for your garden.

This leaf is from a White Soul alpine variety of strawberry. Alpine varieties tend to have smaller berries, but they are packed with flavour and they don’t send runners all over the garden. These are white, which helps with the bird problem. Birds are way more likely to eat red strawberries. In fact, I don’t think I had a single issue with birds eating these white strawberries, and they were not covered at all.

I’ll be sharing some of these seeds at the Seed Love Seed Swap on Saturday, November 9, 2014. Please come if you can!

More details on the events page (link).

I hope to see you there!


frosted kale is sweeter

dino kaleI have a confession to make. About kale. I know it’s a superfood, and healthy people eat lots of it (and love it!!!), but I have a hard time enjoying it. I’ve had some good moments with kale, like when a friend made a salad with baby kale greens, or a batch of kale chips turned out really well. I like it in soups. But for the most part I try to hide it in my food and pretend it’s not there. Because really, I’m not a huge fan of the taste.

Am I being too honest? I’m sure I’m not the only one. Actually, I’m writing this post based on the assumption that there are many other people like me, who might like to know:


How to Eat Kale and Love It (More Than You Already Do)

1. Find the right variety. My least favourite kale is Red Russian, so I don’t do a very good job of harvesting it. My daughter feeds it to her rabbit. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why I planted so much of it… perhaps it was a moment of weakness for the poor baby seedlings I didn’t sell!

This past year I grew 3 varieties for sale and for my own gardens. I didn’t foresee a run on kale, so I ended up with 2 varieties in my own garden (but that’s ok, I don’t really like it that much….) If you try a few, in a few different dishes, it will help you decide on your favourite.

Red Russian (to me) tastes more bitter than the other varieties. I know people who love it and say it’s their favourite, so I would say it’s a personal taste issue. Dinosaur Kale (also known as Lacinato) is pictured above. It has a more mellow flavour. Curly Kale is the standard variety that most people are familiar with. I’m debating whether to try White Russian next year, having just heard of it recently. There might be other varieties too that I’m not familiar with – feel free to let me know what you’ve tried, I’d love to hear about it.

2. Learn the best way to eat your favourite varieties. Dinosaur Kale is my favourite type to eat in soups. I slice it across the leaf in long thin strips, so they’re like green noodles in my brothy soups. If I’m going to make flavoured kale chips, I’ll use the Curly Kale, since it holds more of the good stuff in its many folds.

There are other methods for eating kale, like dicing it really finely and hiding it in lasagna. Or adding it to stir fries, stems included. Some people like to steam it and eat it with vinegar, or cook it and mash it with potatoes and sausages (hello Netherlands, I’m looking at you…). Baby kale greens in salad are great; I think it’s because they’re still so tender.

3. Wait for it. Kale tastes better after it’s been out in a light frost or two. The cold temperatures signal the plants to convert starch to sugar, so they taste sweeter. Kale is not the only plant that does this; all the members of the Brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi) and roots (carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, beets) will do the same.

One year we left the Brussels Sprouts out all winter. They were protected by their huge leaves, but still spent time frozen outside. The kids were eating them like candy, because that’s what they were! So sweet, right from the garden.

4. Spice it up! Use it as a vehicle for your favourite spices/dips/sauces and see what happens!


Good luck, and let me know how it goes. You can find me on Facebook; feel free to start a conversation.




using a cold frame in your garden

cold frame


Happy Autumn! The days are getting shorter and colder and many gardeners are starting to tidy up their gardens in preparation for winter. If you have a cold frame, however, you can extend your season with cool-weather crops, protecting them from frost in their own little mini-greenhouse bubble.

The ideal time to prepare for growing in cold frames is August, because you can make a space in your garden, set it up, and sow some seeds before the temperatures start dropping. It’s not too late for baby greens, though! And there are some very cold-hardy greens that are a bit unusual but definitely deserve a chance if you’re interested in growing during cold weather.

Why Build a Cold Frame?

A cold frame can protect plants from frost and colder temperatures so you can continue to eat from your garden, sometimes even when there’s snow on the ground. In fact, I read a book recently by Niki Jabbour, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, that explains how to grow your own food 365 days a year! The author lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, where it snows and gets really cold in the winter, so she makes good use of cold frames. Her book is my main information source for this post. I recommend reading it if you are interested in extending your growing season.


Cold frames can be used in spring as well, to get a head start on the growing season. Many cool weather crops thrive in a cold frame before the garden is even ready for the tomatoes. That’s a topic for another post, though.



How to Build a Cold Frame


A few years ago I came into a pile of old windows, and hubby build me some frames that fit the windows. They were triangular cold frames, built so the windows rested on the frames. The windows could be propped open with stakes, or I could slide them across the frames so they were partially open. When the temperatures were nice I could take the windows right off and lean them against the end of the frame. You can see these frames in the photo above.


There are lots of plans online for building cold frames, so I won’t go into too much detail here. You’ll need to figure out what works for you. Some people use straw bales and put windows on top. Super easy, no carpentry skills required!! Others use plastic instead of glass, and pvc tubing instead of wood. It’s really about personal preference. I’m more interested in what to grow in the cold frame, so I’ll let you research the building for now. If you find any good plans, let me know and we can share them with everyone else.


Here’s an example of cold frame plans:



What Can be Planted in a Cold Frame


Due to the cooler temperatures and less available sunlight, fruiting plants will not do very well in a cold frame. So you’re basically looking at greens and more greens for your fall salads. Since it’s nearing the end of September, options are further limited. Next year we’ll need to start thinking about this in July, prepare/plant stuff in August, then harvest in the fall and winter for the crops that are more ‘cool’ weather instead of ‘cold’ weather. The following are the hardiest and will handle the colder temperatures if they’re planted right now.


Arugula can be planted now, and if you keep it in a cold frame you’ll still be eating it when there’s snow on the ground. If you like a milder flavour, though, you should plant a few batches. As the plant gets older the leaves get more bitter.


Claytonia can also be planted at this time. It’s a green that is similar to spinach in flavour, and grows best in cool weather. When it flowers, you can eat the flowers and leaves together without any noticeable decrease in flavour.


If you like baby Kale, you can sow that in a cold frame right now too. The young tender leaves are great for salads, as I discovered once when a friend brought a salad that was made more of kale than lettuce! It tasted fantastic.


Mache, or corn salad, can be sown in a cold frame every 2 weeks until mid-October! It’s a good way to get fresh greens in winter. It will stay alive throughout the cold season with some protection.



General Guidelines for Growing in a Cold Frame


1. Don’t fry your plants. This may seem like a silly guideline, but it’s not. The cold frame will get really hot if the day is sunny. You might need to prop it open just a crack, to allow extra heat to escape, even on a cold day. So keep an eye on your plants, especially when it’s sunny outside.


2. For additional warmth at night, you can cover the frame with a foil blanket (one of those emergency blankets) and/or an old comforter.


3. Don’t expect vigorous growth when the weather is cool. Things will not grow as fast as they do in the summer due to less available sunlight and colder temperatures at night.



What Next?


Thank you to Susan for suggesting this topic. I’m open to suggestions for other topics, so please use the contact form or facebook group to let me know if you have any other requests!





determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes

silvery fir tree tomato


If you’ve been poring over seed catalogues, trying not to drool on the photos of tomatoes, you may have noticed that tomatoes can be classified according to whether they are determinate or indeterminate. If you’re wondering what this means, read on.


It’s actually fairly simple. Tomato plants that are indeterminate will keep growing until hit by frost. These are the tomato types that are grown year-round in greenhouses. They can grow to enormous heights – a friend who worked in such a greenhouse said they can get 15 or 20 feet high, pruned and trellised on twine. They use ladders to harvest them! In the home garden, though, they will most likely die at the end of the season, after their sprawling vines have taken over a good portion of your garden. You’ll want to stake these ones, unless you want them vining through your beans and lettuce.


Determinate tomato plants have a set life cycle; they grow, they flower, they fruit, they die. If you want to grow tomatoes in a pot on your patio or balcony, look for determinate types. My favourite is in the photo above: Silvery Fir Tree. The tomatoes are a normal-looking slicing tomato, bright red and tasty. The leaves, however, are the most delicate, feathery, pretty-looking tomato leaves. The photo below shows a comparison between normal leaves and Silvery Fir Tree leaves.


regular and silvery fir tree tomato leaves


Last year I put together an info sheet about growing tomatoes. If you’d like a refresher, please follow the link below for a printable PDF. The blog post is here.


Growing Tomatoes SKG


I’ve got some seedlings started now. They’re about 2 inches tall and wanting to be transplanted into bigger pots already, since they’re tired of sharing space. I planted the seeds in batches together, rather than in containers that would keep the individual seedlings apart. Tomatoes are easy enough to separate, but I need to transplant soon or the roots will be a tangled mess.


Some of my favourites, along with Silvery Fir Tree:


Chocolate Cherry (indeterminate): My kids request these EVERY year since we first grew them. A very tasty tomato that has darker patches.


Snow White Cherry (indeterminate): A pale yellow cherry tomato that has mild flavour. This year I’ll be planting them beside ‘Black Prince’ …. just because.


San Marzano (indeterminate): A paste tomato that is just about DRY inside when you cut it open. Cooks down into sauce very quickly.


New ones for me to try this year:


Humph (indeterminate): Awesome name, isn’t it? I can’t remember the description but I knew I had to have these. We’ll see how they turn out.


Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge (indeterminate): Just what it sounds like, I’d imagine. Another one I just had to try.


Eros (determinate): I’m a sucker for names. Tomatoes used to be called ‘Love Apples’…. so… you know… had to try this one.



Happy growing! Let me know what you’re up to. Join the Kitchen Garden Club on Facebook, or like the Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens page to stay in the loop. OR get these posts via email: sign-up link is to your left.




growing a bay tree: 6 tips

bay tree leaves lewis collard

Of all the herbs and spices I use in my soup, Bay is the one whose absence is most strongly felt if I happen to forget it. And it’s the only one I don’t grow myself (yet). Why? Because it’s a tree. A warmer-climate tree.


I’ve been wishing for a Bay tree, though. One in a pot that I can bring indoors for winter. Since I’ve been reading up on the topic, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.


1. Bay is slow-growing. Patience is required for germination: it could take up to 6 months, according to one source. (WHAT?!!) Once it’s germinated there’s the waiting for it to grow large enough to actually harvest from (years). On the plus side, it can live in the same pot for 5 years at a time!


2. Bay actually likes living in a pot. This is good news for me, since that’s the only way I’ll actually be able to have my own tree. There are cautions against using terracotta pots, though, which I’m assuming is due to evaporation of water since the next sentence from that source is about using a good water-retentive potting soil.


3. Bay is not picky about soil. Again, great news. I’ll be using organic potting soil with well-rotted manure added. Nice to know I don’t have to do any pH tests on the soil to make sure I’m within a narrow range. Bay can handle a pH of 4.5-8.3. Suggested nutrition includes fish emulsion fertilizer, and kelp. Another source recommends replacing the top layer of potting soil with fresh compost every year.


4. Bay likes to be kept warm during the germination process. There’s disagreement between sources about the right temperature range. If I include them all, the range is 10-21 degrees C!! More research needed here, but my gut says the warmer end will win. 10 degrees? Really? For a warmth-loving plant?


5. Bay needs humidity. Dry air in winter can cause the leaves to drop off. Misting with a spray bottle can help prevent this.


6. Bay used in cooking has the latin name Laurus nobilis. Any other type is not for eating.


Lots to plan for, if my Bay tree is going to grow successfully! I was hoping to grow little Bay seedlings and sell them this spring, but now I think there’s not enough time. And, possibly, I could easily fail in my efforts to actually germinate them. We’ll see how it goes. If I can pull it off, you’ll be the second to know. (Facebook is always first to know the exciting stuff. Join the group. Or like the page.)


Would you buy a Bay sapling next year, if I’m successful? Let me know.


Also: I will be emailing my posts from now on. If you’d like to know what else I’m researching or learning by doing, please sign up to receive the emails. If you know someone else who might like to join the email list, please share it with them. My plan is to post something every week, maybe even up to 3x depending on how the week is going. Lofty goals, I know. Feel free to poke me if I’m inactive.


Join the garden club for more conversation about plants! Everyone is welcome in this group.



More about Bay:


There are plenty more tips on the sites where this information came from.

The Herb Gardener


photo credit: Lewis Collard




andrew leading workshop selection

Our family had a great time this morning at the Freeschool event in Erin, run by the Transition Erin group. They are a chapter of the larger Transition Town movement that emphasizes local food and an independence from fossil fuel as much as possible. I presented an ‘organic gardening overview’ as part of the virtual space workshops event. More on virtual space here.
I’m putting my whole workshop online, for those who missed it and for those who might want to refer back to it.
Here’s the slideshow from the workshop:
OGO freeschool ppt
And here’s a white paper, 1 page PDF that contains all the same information plus more detail about the topics in the slideshow:
OGO notes
Enjoy! Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. There’s a contact form here on the website, which sends your questions and comments right to my email.
AND – please join the Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG facebook page for more community support! There are lots of experienced gardeners and people who are willing to help out with questions and who will celebrate with you about anything related to gardening. Please join us!


hanging food to dry

I planted a few sunflower seedlings, but somehow only ended up with one big sunflower head for seeds. I think there may have been squirrels involved, because one of the stems looks like it was chewed off at one point (before they became like tree trunks). The plants did fairly well, though, tucked between the greenhouse and the neighbour’s fence. Fairly sunny if you considered how the light could actually pass through the greenhouse. And the flowers are so tall they can reach the sun anyway. They were tall and spindly at first, but filled out as the season progressed. I actually forgot about them most of the time. It was a pleasant surprise to find the largest sunflower head I’ve ever seen! It was planted in the former location of our rabbit hutch and, I have to say, that rabbit manure sure works well. With the frost coming, I thought it might be best to take the seed head indoors to continue ripening away from potential seed-stealers in my backyard. We’ve got quite the selection of birds and squirrels who would love to take care of our seeds I’m sure.

Before I brought it in, I cut a stem about 2 feet long or so, and scraped off all the dead flower bits from the seeds. You can see in the photo, I’ve done a bit of it already. This was to prevent all those bits from littering my living room floor. Once it was all cleaned off, with seeds still embedded in the seed head, I brought it indoors and hung it up with all the hot peppers I’ve had up for a few weeks.

hanging sunflower head

I will leave it here for a few weeks, most likely. Until they’re dry and rattle a bit.


paprikaI’m really happy with the way my hot peppers and paprika have ripened indoors. Back when frost was threatening, I pulled up many of the hot pepper plants in the garden (and paprika, which is a sweet pepper) and brought them indoors to continue ripening. I basically shook the dirt off the roots (outside) and when I brought them in I covered the roots with plastic bags. This was mainly as a precaution to keep my living room from turning into a filthy mess. Once the bags were on the roots (taped on with duct tape, of course) I hung them upside down in staggered lengths so they could continue ripening.

I have to say this is working really well. The large round paprika peppers you see in the photo were all pale yellow when I brought them in. Now they are red and ready for me to dry them and grind them into paprika! All the hot peppers have done really well too, although some are starting to dry right on the plant. For me this is ok, because I was going to dry them anyway.

So, if you are worried about frost because you still have unripe peppers on your pepper plants, pull them up by the roots, shake off the soil, and hang them upside down somewhere. If you don’t want to bother covering the roots you can always find a basement corner for them. Although they would probably appreciate warmth better than a slightly chilled basement.

You can also overwinter hot peppers in pots, keeping them alive indoors until spring.

See this post about overwintering hot peppers.


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