Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good Things Grow

I am stuffed full of local Ontario goodness this week. In addition to the asparagus orgy, we've been eating fiddleheads, ramps, green onions, red mustard, rhubarb, eggs, and smoked bacon to name a few. The smoked bacon and the mustard greens came from Wheelbarrow Farm, one of the market venders at the Sorauren Market. Tony raises heritage breeds of pigs as well as organic veggies and if bacon can taste happy, this definitely does!

Things are growing on the home farm too. The beans are up! At least the green beans so far, no sign of the yellow or edamame yet but I'm confident it won't long now.

The potatoes are growing in leaps and bounds- I've added more soil to the pail twice now.

I also got some wild garlic plants from Forbes Wild Foods at the market- apparently wild garlic will grow anywhere so I'm testing tht theory by giving it a spot at the base of the big tree of heaven, where little grows now except rubekia.

I have two identifiable volunteers in the garden this year courtesy of the compost again I assume. The first is a pea of unknown parentage- I hadn't planted any this year at all.

Also a member of the brassica family has emerged and again I'm in the dark about which kind since I've yet to plant any. It picked a nice sunny spot that I hadn't allocated to any thing else so it gets to stay, at least until I figure out what it it!

The first round of tomatoes went in the ground last Friday and seem to be happy so far. I planted a brandywine, a big orange stripe, two opalkas and a black brandywine so far.

I still have quite a few on the deck awaiting a spot- several more will go in the garden and the rest in containers. My peppers are coming along slowly but should be ready to go in containers soon as well.

The potted herbs are coming along nicely and I have basil ready to go in the tomato containers as soon as I get to them.

Speaking of which, I have new plan for maximizing my container gardens- it's still a work in progress and I have a few kinks to work out but I'm hoping to get it started this weekend and will post more once I do.

I finally got to make the asapargus soup I mentioned in the previous post and it was absolutely heavenly. Mine didn't look quite as professional as Jamie Oliver's but I'm pretty sure it tasted as delicious. So good in fact that I'm currently cooking a pot of asparagus ends (left over from last night's canning class) to save as stock for future batches. Since there's no milk products in this recipe it will freeze perfectly and we can enjoy asparagus soup all next winter.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Yep, that's local Ontario asparagus at long last! Along with some fresh free range eggs I picked up with the idea of making this lovely recipe from Jamie Oliver. Except we ate every stick of it already; steamed, sauteed in butter, in omlettes and with pasta. Asparagus for breakfast, lunch and dinner- this is how I ended up with kidney stones one year! Now that I know that I need to double up on my water intake to flush the excess calcium oxalate (also found in most dark green veggies), I'll eat it till I'm sick of it! I picked up some more at the Sorauren market today and tomorrow I'm teaching a canning workshop using my pickled asparagus and fiddleheads recipe. I'm going to make that soup yet and I still need to freeze some for next winter too.

Is there anything better than fresh locally grown asparagus?

(It was worth the wait.)

Monday, May 16, 2011


I wrote this post last week only to have it swallowed up by the Friday the 13th blackhole. Now we have cool temps and rain again but at least I had one week to get few things begun.

At long last, the weather is cooperating, the Election is over (hideous as the results maybe) and I've finally been able to get going on my gardens. It's been a rough start this year; poor germination, lousy weather and a spider mite invasion have left me light years behind where I was this time last year. I'm not sure what's causing the issues with germination but less than half of my seeds took this year. I do find it odd that this is the first year I've ever purchased proper seed starting mix- normally I use whatever soil I have on hand with some compost or worm castings thrown in and everything seeds just fine. Based on the rate of germination I'll not waste money on seed starting mix again.

The real disaster however was the spider mites. By the time I realized I had them it was a full on infestation. I had to discard the two tomatoes I overwintered and the accidental tomatillos; they were less than peak from growing in unsupplimented light and they didn't stand a chance. The new seedlings were also hit but I appear to have caught them in time that an intense regime of homemade insecticide using neem among other things seems to have done the trick. They still look rather pathetic tho. I have most of them potted up and outside now and they appear to be thriving. Fortunately I still had a large number of seedlings in the mini greenhouse and the mites didn't make it that far.

Things in the garden are coming along- I've only just planted my peas and beans but the composters are emptied and the gardens are prepped to go. I think I missed the window for rapini and other greens. I'll save them for a fall crop now which should make them last longer next winter.

My wish list is as usual bigger than the space I have to grow in but I've mapped out my veggie plot and think it will make the best use of my small space.

I've also started my potatoes in a pail again- this year I'm just using potatoes that sprouted on their own in the worm bin so I'm already seeing some action. I remembered to drill some drainage hole in the garbage can this time!

At the Hort sale last week I picked up a few things to add to my tiny flower gardens. For the Sun garden I purchased some Siberian Iris.

For the Shade garden, I got Virginia Bluebells:

And for the Woodland garden, I added a tiny Solomon's Seal to the trillums and foxglove.

Best of all, my bee nesting box finally arrived! It's rather industrial looking and we decided to mount it to the fence that ends in the middle of the veggie plot so the pollinatorswill have ample options to choose from . It's also tucked in beside one of the composters and less noticible this way; hopefully it will be left alone by passersby.

Not having a fenced-in yard is often a drawback. I've already had issue with off leash dogs doing damage to some of my gardens- my columbine, magenta violet and a swatch of ditch lilies all have been mangled in the past week but thankfully, they are bouncing back.

So things are slowly getting there. Now if only we get some sun!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I was actually hoping for chickens...

I had a nice update all written and ready to post yesterday. And then Friday the 13th happened and blogger was down all day yesterday. Today when I went to find my post it had vanished. Crap.

In addition my intrepid farmcat and huntress Shadow decided to bring me a gift this morning. Recognizing that certain tone in her meow I went to find what I expected to be a moth or a bee, her usual prey. Instead I found this:

It's a sparrow and it's amazingly still alive. And hungry! It eats every 20 minutes - thankfully only in daylight so there will be no need of midnight feedings. Although I still haven't figured out what to do with it when I have to do things like go to work.

There will be an update post soon. Likely typed one handed as I keep a bird warm in my other. It seems so small to leave alone in a bowl.

I hope sparrow poop is good for the garden.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Leeks, Ramps and Salsify!

I'm still on the hunt for fresh spring greens so I made a trip to the Dufferin Grove Market today, hoping to find early Ontario asparagus. No such luck but I did find some other lovely things to distract myself with for now.

The beautiful leeks are sweet and tender and best of all, locally grown! They were started in the field last fall, then dug up and moved to the greenhouse to over winter. Helga from Pine River Organic Farm mentioned that this was a first time experiment; they look pretty good so I'd call it a success! My plan is to marinate them briefly and grill them on the barbecue so the sugars caramelize.

Ramps, also known as wild leeks are a spring favourite and I was delighted to find them at the Forbes Wild Foods booth. You can also try foraging for them yourself but since their rise in popularity ramps are becoming overpicked and once the root has been removed the plant doesn't return. I prefer to obtain mine from a reputable source that uses sustainable foraging practises.

One the best things to do with ramps is make pesto from the leaves. Blanche the leaves briefly before processing to remove some of the pungency if you prefer; I didn't and my pesto has a very pronounced bite to it. I used tahini in place of nuts to make it a more creamy texture and add lots of olive oil and a touch of salt- simple and delicious on pasta or as a garlicky sauce to drizzle on other dishes. I also like to dry the leaves and use them in soups in the winter. The bulbs can be pickled or used fresh in any number of recipes.

The most exciting find was the salsify! Not being too familiar with it I had to ask what it was and how to serve it. The vendor from Greenfields was more than happy to fill me in on it's uses and suggested that it should be cooked in a white sauce to enhance the scallop-like flavour it's known for. After a bit of research I have determined that this particular variety is black salsify, also known as oyster plant because of it's similar taste to shellfish. I also found out that's it's very nutritionally sound.

Serving Size per ½ cup
Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 50
Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 15mg 1%

Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Sugars 2g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 8%

Calcium 4%
Iron 2%

To use salsify, wash it well, cut off the greens and peel the root - I found a small knife worked better than a standard peeler for this because the root was knobby and uneven.

Cut the root in small pieces and immediately place them in a bowl of water with lemon juice or vinegar added to prevent discolouration. The greens are also edible when they are young and can be added to salads.

You can add it to soups and stews like any root vegetable, or saute it in butter and/or mash it - it's very versatile! I went with the recommendation of the vendor and lightly pan fried it in butter and added it to a simple white sauce (which in my case was more beige than white since I only had Red Fife whole wheat flour on hand). It really does taste like scallops and was delicious! So delicious I forgot to take a photos of the finished dish before we ate it all!

This Sat May 7 is the The Horticultural Society of Parkdale and Toronto's Annual Plant Sale (affectionately known as the Hort Sale). This very popular event offers tons of lovely plants for sale; many are grown by the members themselves and there is also a number of local vendors like Urban Harvest and Sweetpeas. It's a great place to look for rare and hard to find varieties as well as popular annuals and perennials. There's a large area of native plants for sale as well as shrubs and vines. At the set up last night I spotted some gooseberry shrubs that I wish I had room for and I have my eyes on some Solomon's Seal and Virginia bluebells for my shade garden.

The sale takes place at:

Parkdale School and Community Centre

75 Lansdowne Ave at Seaforth,1 block N of Queen West

10:30 - 1:30

Get there Early!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blessings of May

May I make my fond excuses for the lateness of the hour,
but we accept your invitation, and we bring you Beltane's flower.
For the May Day is the great day, sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley will heed the song that calls them back.
Pass the word and pass the lady, pass the plate to all who hunger.
Pass the wit of ancient wisdom, pass the cup of cri
mson wonder!!!
Cup of Wonder, Jethro Tull

We rose before dawn this morning for our annual pilgrimage to High Park to welcome in the first of May. It was a perfect morning; a hint of chill still in the air, a deep pink sunrise and the rain held off long enough for the song and dance festivities to take place. Being Sunday, no one was rushing off to work this year so there was time after for a leisurely breakfast and a walk through the woods.

The woods were full of wonders this morning, including an appearance by the fabled white squirrel!
The May Queen, perhaps?

As we traipsed through the forest, we gathered willow branches to make wreaths, from limbs felled in the recent windstorms.

We also picked some garlic mustard for pesto and foraged for fiddleheads, of which we were fortunate to find plenty! We followed sound foraging techniques even still; picked only from a patch that was very plentiful, plucked no more than one fiddlehead per clump and left far more than we gathered.

A caution for those who aren't familiar with them, fiddleheads should be washed thoroughly and never eaten raw. Some sources suggest boiling them and draining the water twice- I have never found this to be necessary but if you have a sensitive stomach you might want to take the extra step. After a good rinsing, I prefer to saute them in a bit of butter and eat them plain but they are wonderful in pasta dishes and can be substituted in any dish that calls for asparagus.

Wandering through a thicket of forsythia, we eventually stumbled onto the historical gardens of the original homestead, Colborne Lodge. The vegetable gardens are all but empty for now, except for some rhubarb and over wintered onions and garlic.

The floral gardens are already in full bloom and we were awed by the variety of spring bulbs that are lovingly planted by the park staff, including this beauty which I believe is a variety of tulip!

On a nearby hillside we discovered a mass of lilies as well; it was still too early in the season for flowers but we'll have to try to find our way back in time to see them in bloom. And in a week or so the cherry trees will be in blossom, so today's meander through the woods was hopefully just the first of many to come.

Blessed Beltane to you and yours! May your gardens be lush and fertile this year!