Thursday, April 28, 2011

Edible Wild Spring Greens

The crazy weather continues- yesterday we had some heavy rain but it cleared long enough for me to get out and play in the gardens for a while. One of the composters is in need of some repair so I emptied the entire thing onto the garden, raked out the good stuff and left the partially composted matter out overnight to get a good soaking from the rain. I'm heading to the hardware store to day to get some replacement screws to put it back together but in the meantime the wind has been blowing ferociously and I may not have any compost left to put in it!

The soil will benefit from the newly added compost and all the rain is helping mix it in. I raked a bit yesterday as well so things are looking nice and rich, ready for planting! I hope to get some cool weather seeds in the ground in the next few days; peas,rapini and lettuces for now. It will be a few weeks before we'll be harvesting them so in the meantime I dug a few dandelions and spring onions and made a tasty wilted greens salad.

Bitter greens like dandelions, garlic mustard, lambs quarters and nettles are an excellent liver cleanser as well as a source of iron and vitamin C, and best of all, they're free! They can be foraged even in the city although it's best to pick them where you know the ground is not contaminated with pesticides or other toxins.

Wilted Spring Greens Salad

2-3 cups of mixed bitter greens (I used dandelions and added some beetgreens left from Easter dinner at a friend's- he was going to throw them out!)
glug of olive oil and small amount (about 1/2 tsp) of bacon fat (you can use a different fat such as butter or omit it altogether but it adds a nice flavour with the bitterness of the greens)
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 med onion sliced in rings
1-2 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
splash of soy sauce
Fresh ground pepper
Spring onions, chopped

Wash greens well and remove roots and older leaves which can be too tough. Chop in bite sized pieces. Heat fats in a frying pan over med heat until sizzling, add sliced onions and garlic, stir until softened. Add greens, stir briefly and add pepper, vinegar and soy sauce- mix thoroughly and turn off heat. Allow to rest briefly -the greens will continue to wilt with the heat of the frying pan. Garnish with spring onions and serve.

Serves 2 as a side dish. Or for a meal for one, add walnuts or pine nuts with the greens and lightly toast them before adding liquids. You can also add some crumbled feta(as I did) or goat cheese or a chopped hardboiled egg. Healthy and delicious!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Slow Start

The rainy cool weather continues and although the weather forecasters keep commenting that this is normal for this time of year, it still feels like everything is so much later than last year! I know for a fact that we made violet jelly for the CanJam which meant there were lots of violets to be picked in the middle of April; this year I've yet to see any.

Even so, the gardens are finally coming to life- the rhubarb is up, the trilliums and foxglove have reappeared and I could be picking fiddleheads in my backyard any day now.

The wild strawberries are taking over and have crept under the fence to grow in the parking lot next door- better than asphalt!

Inside the house things are also starting to pick up although it's been a terrible year for germination- it's like the seeds know I haven't really gotten into my gardening headspace yet. I've had to reseed some of the tomatoes and most of the peppers and I still haven't managed to sprout a single jalapeno!

So far I have some healthy looking Brandywines, Sasha's Altai, and Jaune Flammes. In the second seeding I added Russian Rose, Una's Heartstock and reseeded the Big Orange Stripe since none germinated the first time. I still need to add a few more varieties, most likely Black Brandywine and Cherokee Purple, and I may chose a green tomato variety other than the Zebra's which seem prone BER in containers. I won't be attempting to grow the 20 or so varieties like last year - it was a bit too much to keep up with the watering on the roof!

I made use of the rainy day off today to tend to some neglected house plants as well and discovered that my newest additions apparently came with spider mites which have now advanced to the avocado as well as the accidental tomatillos.That's what I get for buying plants from Home Depot I guess. Anyone got any good recommendations to get rid of them before they make their way to my seedlings?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hints of Things to Come

The expression April is a cruelest month has never seemed more fitting than this year; not only has the weather been a major tease but this prolonged cold has everything growing slowly as well. Even Easter is late this year although I can't really blame that on the weather! (I'm looking at you, moon)

There's nothing so cruel as longing for the tastes of spring and knowing that local asparagus is still weeks if not months away from hitting the markets. Of course the stores are full of not-so-local asparagus and rhubarb and it's difficult not to succumb; those of you further south of here who post gloating photos of your spring harvests are rubbing salt in my wounds! My rhubarb is barely up, my herbs declined to return this year and aside from a few spring onions I won't be nibbling on anything freshly grown for a long while yet.

My gardens are still looking bleak and mostly barren but a few things are peeping up including this pleasant surprise I know I didn't plant - they just appeared in the grass thicket!

Even my seedling trays are decidely retarded this year and who can blame them? Every time the weather's warmed up enough to consider putting them outside for a bit, Mother Nature goes and sends something dramatic like thunderstorms or snow. Today it's only slightly above freezing, raining and gusting winds, with a chance of snow tonight. Fantastic, thanks for that.

On a more promising note I do have some fun stuff to share! These lovely eggplant seeds arrived in my mailbox last week and are about to be seeded.

They are a gift from the Ottawa Gardener at The Veggie Patch Reimagined and I'm excited to see if they handle my somewhat shady garden.

My bee nesting box is due to arrive next week and I am excited to know I'll be creating a habitat to encourage more pollinators to my gardens this year. Now if only we can convince Shadow not to eat them!

The Canning season is gearing up again and the folks at the West End Food Coop have put together a guide on how to set up a community cannery, similar to the one I taught at last year. It includes details of budgeting, planning, using local produce and a whole lot of recipes that we taught last year. It's available free of charge to non profits and community organizations by emailing

And here's the highlight of my week- remember the tomato plants that accidently sprouted from worm compost and have been growing indoors all winter? I ended up with two distinct varieties- one is a small detirminate - I'm hoping it's a ditmarsher which gave such lovely early cherries last year. The other is obviously NOT a detirminate as it is currently about 5 ft long and wound around a lamp among other things. Against all odds it's thriving indoors and just recently these appeared!

I suspect there's not much of a chance that they will pollinate and even if they do the stem isn't strong enough to support much weight in it's current state. If and when I can get it outside I will have to stake it well and hope for the best

So all is not lost, just delayed. Which is probably a good thing since I haven't had much time to think about gardens recently. As all of my fellow Canucks are aware, we are heading for a federal election in May. As an occasional Elections Canada employee, I'm currently working long hours on the voter's list, making sure everyone who's eligible and wishes to has the opportunity to cast their vote. Recent world events have made it very clear how blessed we are to live in a democracy and I encourage you all to take advantage of that and vote!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Keeping a Gardening Journal

Long before I began this blog, even before my first gardening blog Reclaimed Earth, I kept notes about my gardens the old fashioned way- on paper. The most recent volume was started in 2001 in a lovely notebook gifted to me by my friend Rachael. Part journal, part inventory, the notes in this book and other previous editions provide a record of past successes and failures, of weather and planting dates and of former gardens and new acquisitions. The entries are sporadic at best- the first note of the year varies from Mar 2 one year to May 4 another. Some years there's only been a beginning and end of season post with nothing in between. Some entries have diagrams of seedling trays and garden beds and occasionally little drawings. Every year's inventory includes some old favourites as well as new prospects and each year seemed to have a specific theme although I didn't actually plan it that way.

2001 focused on medicinal and native plants, likely because of my interest in midwifery and herbal remedies at the time:

In 2003 I had new garden with lots of vertical space and very little else so understandably I was obsessed with flowering vines.

In 2007 it was all about the perennials and the rock garden- things that would survive and propagate with minimal effort while I was away on tour.

2009, my first summer in our current apt was veggie-centric. Having room to build a proper garden was a huge bonus!

And last year of course was the year of the tomatoes- over 20 heirloom varieties in a rainbow of colours, most in pots on the roof.

Mostly it's just another place to jot down random garden related thoughts but I occasionally wish I kept more detailed notes!

Do you keep notes on your gardens?

Friday, April 1, 2011

You know it's really spring when...

The laundry and the farm cats are hanging outside!

Unlike out neighbours to the south who are getting hit with yet anther snowstorm (I feel your pain, really I do!), we have been blessed with sunshine and spring jacket weather today, with more to come for the weekend. We're celebrating by breaking out the barbecue for some steaks and grilled veggies for dinner tonight.

Even Casey, our senior citizen decided to catch some rays today.

She's looking pretty good for a girl that's going to be 20 years old this June!

Pantry Challenge Final Wrap up!

Yesterday was the last day of the month long pantry challenge and thankfully it ended just in time! We are now completely out of butter, sugar, potatoes, fresh veggies (except onions) and garlic. Virtually no dairy left- sour cream is long gone and a tiny bit of feta is all that stands between me and complete cheese desolation. There is still some frozen turkey, corn and various soup stocks but otherwise the freezer is a black hole of emptiness. The pantry cupboard is pretty much depleted as well- no coffee, no black tea, no herbal tea except a small amount of loose dried herbs. The crackers were gone in the first week, there's not a canned good to be found and even the pasta stockpile is nearly gone. Oddly we still have a few packets of hot chocolate mix left- guess we just aren't chocolate cravers. The dried good shelf is equally grim- white flour is all but gone, we are low on salt, and totally out of lentils, nuts and rice.

But we survived and we didn't even have to resort to eating pickles as a meal! The preserve shelves are looking a little sparse from a month ago but they're nowhere near empty. One thing this challenge has made me realize is that most of what I preserve are more condiment than main course. They make great snacks or additions to other foods as part of a meal but aren't really the main components. Which means I'm still heavily dependent on my freezer and store bought staples. It was a sobering realization.

Some other things I noted along the way:

We don't eat bread much. This is not exactly news to me since I know how infrequently I buy it but I had thought I might make some during the challenge to help stretch out our food. I never did make any and never felt the need to either. Although we did finally eat a small loaf of locally made sourdough bread that was in the freezer- we cut thin slices and toasted it to eat like a cracker for snacks.

Speaking of snacks, popcorn saved me from feeling completely deprived. I am a savoury snack person and had eaten all my usual treats early on (hummus, pate, rice crackers). Having a big jar of popcorn gave me an option for something when I was feeling in need of a treat. Also this recipe from Liz at Food Snobbery was a godsend this week- tahini and kimchi is amazing together- who knew?

My other lifesaver was lemon juice. The concentrated in a bottle kind. Once I ran out of everything else to drink and used up my fresh lemons, a little of the concentrate with some sugar (or honey or maple syrup) in water made a drink I could live with. I added fruit syrup from canned or frozen fruit occasionally as well. I think I will stockpile a few bottles of that stuff in the future- it's not likely to ever go bad!

The mushroom kit was a nice bonus, both for the sustenance and the opportunity to actually grow something edible in the winter. I'm going to invest in a few more of those and see if I can't find a way to keep them going.

Overall the experience wasn't as difficult as I first imagined. There were some tough moments and few lapses that I wrote about previously but it wasn't as big an adjustment as I predicted, once I got past the no shopping part. I think we ate pretty well overall, and I even discovered a few new recipes that I will likely keep making. We definitely didn't lose any weight tho!

One of our last storage meals was Turkey Cacciatore made with frozen turkey and the last of my whole frozen tomatoes.

Turkey Cacciatore

1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup red pepper, seeded and diced (I used frozen)
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olives chopped ( optional
2 cups tomato sauce (I used my own canned sauce)
1 cup fresh or frozen cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tsp Fresh or 1/2 tsp dried herbs to taste (I used basil,thyme and rosemary, oregano and sage would be good too)
salt and pepper
2 cups of turkey meat, cooked

Over medium heat, saute onion and pepper in olive oil until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Add turkey, tomatos, olives, wine, bay leaf, sugar, and herbs and salt, cook on med for 5 minutes until tomatoes are softened. Add tomato sauce and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over pasta or rice.

I don't think anything that came out of this experience will change the way I shop or how much food I'll keep in storage. We really don't have the room for much more here and while I'm forced to acknowledge my dependency on the freezer as one of our main food storage sources, we're not really in a position to change that at present. But I do think it may be time that I look into buying that pressure canner!

Now if you'll excuse me, there's some grocery shopping to be done!