Sunday, July 24, 2011

I has Tomatoes! ( And rain finally)

There were two more but they got eaten (not by me sadly).
Also I have no idea what variety of tomatoes these are. The plant was a volunteer that sprouted over the winter and then got attacked by spidermites so I cut it back to almost nothing at one point and then stuck it in the garden when it looked like it might survive. It's a small tumbling cherry which makes me thing it's a ditmarsher (I grew one last year) but the colour of the fruit looks more pink, like Russian Rose, which I also grow. This is not my best year for tomatoes. I got off to a rocky start with the aforementioned mites, I mixed up most of my seedlings so not sure what got planted where in containers and I'm having loads of issues with BER- all the Opalkas so far have had to be tossed along with most of the Big Orange Stripes and even a Black Brandywine today - it broke my heart because it was so close to ripe but the middle was rotten throughout.

It's been such a funny year- cold and rainy for so long, things got off to a slow start, then when the heat finally kicked in, it was so dry everything was parched. I've managed to keep everything alive till now but it's felt like all my plants were in survival mode, growing but not producing much. We finally got a good solid rain last night- after the heatwave that was the past few weeks it was desperately needed and everything looks so much happier today. Just in time for me to leave.

Tomorrow I head off on my big adventure- my first ever trip to the UK! My aunt and I are spending almost 4 weeks there, doing some family history research among other touristy stuff. If you are so inclined I hope to be posting some of my adventures in my newest blog The Rising Village but I'll try to post here as well if I get a chance.

It's not great timing for the gardens and preserving but hopefully there will still be lots to eat and can when I return mid August - as long as the Russian remembers to water!

One last pic of the beets in the bin! They're going to have to make it without me watching over them. I think they'll be fine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Eating in the Heat

We've been having some really hot days recently - temps in the 30's with the humidex making it feel well over 40 (that's 90's and over 100 respectively in American.) This week we expect to hit 36 by Thurs with no relief in sight. For the first time in my life I am grateful for the air conditioning that sneaks in from the apartment vents below us- it doesn't do much in the rest of the house but if I shut the bedroom door it's at least bearable to sleep in at night.

To make matters worse we haven't seen rain in weeks either. Yesterday we were expected to get hit with some big thunder storms but they somehow skirted by us here in Toronto, hitting west, south and east of us but delivering only a smattering of raindrops here on the way by. My gardens are still surviving but the rainbarrel is dry and the containers on the roof have to be watered daily. I'll be hooking up the hose to the kitchen sink today and giving everything a good soaking before refilling the rainbarrel myself. I don't know if it's the lack of water but everything seems to be in a lull right now; the lettuce is done, the bush beans are slowing to a trickle but the climbing beans are just starting to flower. I don't have any cukes or summer squash yet and the tons of tomatoes are still still a ways from ripening- at this rate I'll be lucky to eat one before I leave for England next week!

The most noticeable effect of all this heat is on my appetite and I find I'm not very enthusiastic about preparing food either. When it's too hot to cook, too late for salad greens and too early for tomatoes, what do you make? Yesterday I went to the Sorauren Farmer's Market hoping for inspiration and came home with a loaf of olive bread, a cucumber, some fresh onions, a zucchini and a patty pan squash.
I'd never made cucumber gazpacho before but it seemed easy enough and I used what I had on hand to come up with a variation that was exactly perfect for this heat wave.

Cucumber Gazpacho

1 good size cucumber - I used a field cucumber and didn't bother to seed it but you can if the seeds are large.
1 green pepper, seeded - I picked a very small one from one of my container peppers
1 hot pepper seeded (I used a jalapeno)
1 glug of olive oil
splash of red wine vinegar (to taste- you could use lemon juice or balsamic too)
1 clove of garlic
handful of onion greens- I cut the tops off a fresh red onion- you could use spring onions as well
1 sprig of fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste.

Chop the veggies in chunks. Add everything to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth- I had to add about 1/2 cup of water to thin it slightly. Pour in bowls, and drizzle with good quality olive oil. (I also added a touch of brine from a jar of pickled hot peppers to mine because I like heat when I'm hot but the Russian is a bit of wimp- he doesn't like olives either so guess which bowl is mine!) Chill before serving.

Serve with a piece of dense bread to soak up the remainders and you have a perfect meal for a hot summer night! I wish I'd bought more cucumbers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Late Great Beet Challenge!

Linda at Tree and Twig Farm was offering up some free Detroit Red Beet seeds last week if you agreed to participate in a grow-a-long so I gladly signed up! Linda sent the seeds to readers coast to coast and we all agreed to post about our results so we can compare locations, growing conditions and of course results! The idea is to show that it's not too late to still plant seeds and in my case I hadn't yet planted any beets and a bin just waiting to be used. My seeds arrived in the mail earlier this week and today is the agreed upon planting date!

I've never tried to grow beets in a container before but to make the most use of space I like to try different things in the ground and up here on the deck to see what works best. I have very different growing conditions in the two locations- the garden in the ground is partly shaded and the soil depth is still not as deep as I'd like. It lies on top of a former gravel driveway, which provides great drainage but not much depth for root crops. I provide water from a soaker hose attached to a rainbarrel so only the roots get water unless it rains! Up on the deck we get lots of sun and it's a black tar roof so it's hot and can be very dry. I have to water often and that sometimes washes away the soil nutrients so I feed the containers regularly with worm compost and a slow release mineral mix from Urban Harvest. I already have a similar bin of carrots planted so the two bins are getting a good amount of sun sitting on my work bench on the deck.

Also in containers nearby are the tomatoes,

the sweet and hot peppers,

and of course the roof squash!

I'm looking forward to some tasty beet greens and hopefully, a wonderful crop of beets!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Adventures in Urban Harvesting

Guess what my second NFFTT pick was?

If you guessed mulberries, you'd be half right! I actually went to a sour cherry pick, from a very tall tree located right downtown. Sadly most of the cherries were tauntingly out of reach, even from an 8 ft ladder. My share of the volunteer's split was about 2 lbs- not a great haul but free sour cherries are never a bad thing. Luckily there was also a mulberry tree in the alley right behind the house we were picking from and they were the biggest juiciest mulberries I've ever seen!
After gathering a bagful of mulberries (and staining my hand a very vivid deep purple in the process), I set out to do the rest of my errands for the afternoon. Walking to the subway, I stumbled upon a line of people waiting to receive something that was being handed out of black van parked on the sidewalk. On closer inspection I realized it was cans of beer! Molson's was giving out samples of their new brand 'M' and all they required was a swipe of your drivers license. So I lined up and walked away with a bag containing 4 cans of beer!

I continued on with my plans with my purple stained hands now carrying a bag of cherries, a bag of mulberries and a bag of beer. Some of the mulberries had leaked through the bag and I had purple smudges on my shorts and legs as well. I had to pick up a package from a hotel and I also stopped for a bit of shopping on Queen St. No one even gave me a second glance!

On my way home I was a bit hungry so I stopped at a snack wagon for a plate of chips (yes I know they're called fries but I grew up on chip wagons and if it's big chunks of deep fried potatoes served in a paper dish with a toothpick and doused with salt and vinegar, they're chips to me.) I got a bit carried away with the vinegar and it was just as I boarded the streetcar home that the paper dish began to leak. No napkins handy, I had no choice but to let it drip all down my arms and legs. I must have been quite the picture- hands dyed brilliant purple, fruit juices and vinegar dribbling all over the place- the only thing that wasn't leaking was the beer thankfully! For once I was the person no one wanted to sit near on the streetcar.

But I made it home with all my bounty- the fruit is in the fridge waiting to be canned and the Russian very much appreciated the beer. And the best part? Vinegar removes mulberries stains like magic! Who knew?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We're in Print! Announcing We Sure Can by Sarah B Hood

I've known Sarah of Toronto Tasting Notes for a few years now- we first met through plants swaps as members of the You Grow Girl forum. Last year we both participated in the CanJam organized by Tigress and I know her to be a connoisseur and preserver of the highest merit. So I was pleased and flattered when she asked if she could include our recipe for Pickled Asparagus and Fiddleheads in her upcoming book We Sure Can! How Jams and Pickles are Reviving the Lure and Lore of Local Food

You can check out a preview and order a copy of the book here. It's chock full of great information and scrumptious recipes by contributors including the aftermentioned Tigress, and fellow Torontonian preservers Joel and Dana of Well Preserved as well as many others. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

If you are near Leslieville in Toronto you might want to check out the book launch on Aug 7

Sunday, August 7
9:00am - 2:00pm
Leslieville Farmers Market
Jonathan Ashbridge Park, Queen Street East, Toronto
(Rain date: August 14)

I'm pretty sure there will be delicious samples!

First Pick of the Year!

I went on my first pick this season with Not Far From the Tree today and came home with not one but two types of fruit- serviceberries and red currants! Serviceberries (also known as saskatoon berries) closely resemble blueberries in looks and taste, except that they grow on trees. Here in Toronto serviceberry trees are quite common, being a very popular choice of the municipal native tree planting program a few years ago. Today's pick wasn't exactly spectacular, yielding a scant 4 lbs from two trees. Half went to PARC a local community kitchen and the other half was divided between the volunteers - we were 7 in total so my share was about a cup total. The currants were an added bonus; not part of our assigned pick , the homeowner who I know from the Sorauren Market allowed me to pick them as well since he doesn't do anything with them. I ended up with just about a cup of them as well.

I debated just eating them fresh but now that I have free time again, the urge to can them won out and I hunted around until I found a recipe that suited both. What I came up with was an combination of a few different recipes, mainly based on a red currant and blueberry jam recipe found here

Small Batch Serviceberry Red Currant Jam
I used equal amounts of the berries and a matching amount of sugar -in my case 1 cup of each. With both I included some underripe berries (about 25%) to help with set since there's more available pectin.

Heat currants in a non reactive pot with a small amount of water until berries are soft and release juice. Strain through a sieve, pressing down with the back of a spoon- since it will be jam not jelly it doesn't matter if the juice is cloudy. Add juice and sugar back to the pot, heat over med high until boiling, stirring regularly.

When juice is thickened,about 5 minutes, add serviceberries and continue to boil. I also added a few cloves and allspice. Heat while stirring until serviceberries are softened, then mash with a potato masher. Stir well and check for set if necessary- I didn't have to because it was already setting in the pot. Pour in sterilized jars and process for 5 minutes in a hot waterbath canner.

I ended up with two x scant 125 ml jars which I didn't bother to can, intending to put them in the fridge. The jam turned out fantastic- sweet yet tangy, and pretty too. One jar didn't even make it to the fridge but was devoured with some brie.

Looks like I need to do some more picking!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Welcome Summer!

I know I'm a little late on the season but I've been a bit preoccupied - I work for PRIDE Toronto and this past weekend was our annual parade and festival. For most of the month of June I am tethered to a computer, planning and organizing the musical stages that are a large part of the festival. This year we had six stages and the amount of email generated in getting those organized is mindboggling!I love my work but the down side of course is that there is little time for much else just when the season starts. Thankfully my gardens are in full swing and the daily breaks to weed and water act as a much needed respite from the constant stream of information I channel. So even tho I haven't had the time to post much, my gardens have been chugging away and I've even managed to take some photos of the progression. The festival is now complete for this year, I have no voice and some serious blisters on my feet but my veggies are kicking in and my gardens have welcomed me back with open arms and fresh food.

Everything is doing well in the backyard garden. The tomato plants are huge and bearing lots of fruit.

The peppers are lagging a bit- they love the heat and we haven't had any consistant hot spells yet.

The zucchini are flowering and the patty pan squash should follow suit any day now.

The cukes are also making themselves known and I have some lemon cukes snuck in places including beside the compost - these were a gift from ellieT of Wet My Plants along with a much appreciated moonflower- my favourite flower of ever!

Potatoes in the bucket are coming along nicely although I think I should have added more soil. They haven't started flowering yet so no point in looking for early potatoes sadly.

The final addition was 8 brussel sprout plants I added a few weeks ago- I haven't had much luck growing them in the past but I love them so much I decided to give it another shot- I spaced them well, in a spot that gets a fair bit of sun.

The clear winners so far are the bush beans!
Although I lost all but one of the wax plants, I have a nice bunch of green beans starting to produce and we had the first bunch for dinner last night!

Up on the deck the tomatoes are also coming along nicely- I don't have any ripe fruit yet but it won't be long! Everything up here is exposed to more heat so the peppers are a bit advanced to their in ground counterparts- there are already tiny peppers forming on some. I think I may have been duped on this tomato tho:

It's a Baxter's Bush Cherry that I bought as a seedling but so far it it neither bush-like nor cherry-like and it's threatening to take over!

The carrots in a bin are a bit thin at the moment but making progress. I'm planning on filling the matching bin with some black radish and beet seeds, now that I have time!

The roof squash are loving it up there and I'm excited to watch their progress

I read lot of gardening blogs and I find it very interesting what's growing at any given time in different areas of the continent. Obviously the southern US is always ahead of me but I'm often surprised to read what's ready elsewhere. I know some gardeners growing north of me are already eating new potatoes and baby zucchini (jealous!), where as some gardeners quite a bit south of here were only planting beans a few weeks ago and mine have been in the ground since the first week of May! Is it due to micro climates, using greenhouses, or just preference? What's ready now in your garden?