Rolling Storms & Tomatoes

What a week it has been here in the Niagara Region of Ontario. The heat and humidity have been unbearable with  most days this week over 100 degrees with the humidity. It’s been draining working outside and quite irritating to hear those that work indoors complaining about the heat while sitting in their air-conditioned splendor. It’s unnerving how heat and humidity can turn the gentlest of souls into cranky bizatches at the snap of the fingers, myself included. I was teetering on the verge of insanity a few times this week…it was not comforting, let me tell you.

 

 

Thankfully, the rains finally came last night helping to rid us of some of the humidity and the accompanying suffocating heat. Although it came at a price. We had rolling lines of powerful thunderstorms, severe winds, and tornado warnings. There were a few times we ran to the basement for cover when the rains pelted down so heavily that we couldn’t hear each other speaking and the winds contorted the trees like seasoned yogis. We had just sat down to dinner when the first wave of storms rolled in with huge dark clouds, whipping winds and rain that hit the windows like rocks. At one point the rain ceased between storm surges and a flock of seagulls took to the sky above our neighborhood, circling overhead like a warning.

 

 

Throughout the night my mind kept going to my garden. Hoping my tomato plants were holding up. I had noticed while closing up before the first rainfall that one of the plants had been bent by the winds, putting it in jeopardy of snapping off. A few stakes were strategically placed to try to stop the toppling of the tomato cages in hopes of preserving the easily snapped stems. Early this morning there was a clap of thunder so loud that I sat straight up in bed. What was my first thought? My tomatoes. I was thrilled that the gardens were getting a thorough watering but at what expense? I certainly wasn’t about to trek out into the storm and it was still dark outside so I couldn’t see if there was any destruction in the veggie patch.  I am definitely a gardener to the core…or perhaps just anxious for homegrown, plump and juicy tomatoes.

 

 

First thing this morning before the neighborhood started to stir, I tiptoed barefoot out to the garden with a mug of steaming coffee in my hand to check on my little lovelies. Phew! Everything had weathered the storm far better than expected. One of my Brussels sprout plants had been partially uprooted but was easily re-positioned. Two tomato plants were tipped but not broken, thankfully. One of my potato plants’ top growth was flattened by the pelting rain but all-in-all everything looked happy to have been saturated and refreshed. I took this time to get cracking at pulling weeds while the ground was soft and still have loads more weeds to pull today since they are easier to pull out of mud than dry, compacted soil.

 

Interested in what it looked like around these parts? Check out this link on The Weather Network. There is a brief video and loads of pics sent in by Ontario residents.

 

 

Today has turned out to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

“In all things in nature there is something of the marvelous.”  – Aristotle 

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Garden Goddess Strikes Again

It’s that time of year again! The annual planting of my veggie garden. My green thumbs are twitching and I’m ready to get dirty…again.

 

 

 

Last weekend, I made the trek to the “local” heirloom plant sale and stocked up. There were a few things that I couldn’t get my hands on like kale, so I am still on the hunt for a few items. Fingers crossed that I’ll find good quality heirloom plants. The garden centres seem to be either picked over, sold out, or they lost mass amounts of plants due to the frost we had last week. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled.

 

 

 

In order to prep the garden, I needed a rototiller. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to ask the neighbour that helped me last year. This year I wanted to do it myself. It looked like to fun of an opportunity to pass up. Who doesn’t like crazy, loud engines attached to tines that clutch hungrily at the soil? I just couldn’t resist the temptation. The last time I used a rototiller was in Horticulture college. It was not a positive experience, although I did laugh like crazy when a friend of mine wanted to be the first to take a crack at it. Having no clue what she was doing she quickly lost control and was dragged along behind it. I seem to remember that being the last time I ever saw my beautiful, off-white fisherman sweater…she had borrowed it. This year’s garden prep was the perfect opportunity for me to have at it. Luckily, I have a fan-flippin’-tastic boss that just happened to have a rototiller I could borrow. I was in luck! This machine kicks butt! I seriously need one!

 

 

 

The Machine That Won My Heart

The Machine That Won My Heart

*if you look to the right of the rototiller you can see my new spade mentioned in a previous post (that I did not dance late into the night with).

 

 

 

The only problem with me having a rototiller of my own would be that I would feel the need to dig up every bit of unused space on my property. Plus, I’d like to be less petrol-dependent so this would be seriously counter-productive.

 

 

 

Let me just say that the time I spent rototilling the garden has been the most fun I’ve had all week. And I’ve had a good week so far. Is that sad?

 

 

 

I worked up a serious sweat working in this crazy heat we’ve been having. It’s been above 32 degrees Celsius the last couple days. I thought it would be great to go with  breezy, wavy beach hair this morning which was not well thought out. My hair is super thick as it is so this made it even thicker feeling. Looked great before I started gardening though. I tried an easy  beach wave spray recipe that uses sea salt, coconut oil, water and hair gel. Oh…my…gosh. Why this is a good idea while hot out I won’t ever understand. It made me even hotter. I will not be hanging out on a beach after spraying my hair with this concoction, let me tell you. Mind you, I don’t normally hang out on beaches anyway since sand in my bathing suit makes me cranky.  This hair technique must be reserved for days when I will be trying to sport a carefree look while in air conditioning.

 

 

 

Soft soil after rototilling

Soft soil after rototilling

 

 

 

 

It took me all of about 15 seconds to figure out proper tilling technique and get serious. The soil in the garden is now so fluffy that it is simply dreamy. I was able to smooth it flat(ish) with a leaf rake afterward. That’s how soft it is. This is temporary since soon enough it will be tamped down by rain, walking around in it, and settling. I must get my vegetable plants in the ground when the soil is perfect. Not only does it make my life easier but the plants get a great start at getting their roots going with as little resistance as possible. I guess you know what I’ll be doing later this afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

“There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.”  ~Mirabel Osler

Snippets in Time…Thanksgiving

I think this year’s Thanksgiving weekend ranks at the top of my Thanksgiving memories. The weather was incredibly beautiful and autumnal. One evening being cool and rainy was a great excuse to bundle up inside with a glass of red wine, a cozy blanket and an interesting documentary. What? I love a good documentary! Monday morning  the sunshine and crisp air beckoned us outside to get the garden prepped for winter. There was raking to be done and the removal of the veggie garden plants. The whole family chipped in on the task which made it so much more enjoyable. We had some good laughs while working as a team to accomplish a goal. Things went slightly awry when the kids thought it would be fun to chuck green “grounder” tomatoes at each other. They quickly realized it wasn’t as intelligent as originally thought once put into action. A learning lesson was had – being pummeled with green tomatoes is like having rocks thrown at you! Those shenanigans died down without me even having to pull out the “safety first” speech.

 


We indulged in our quiet Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday evening and reported to each other something we were thankful for. I stated that I had a few things on my list and was quickly shut down after three. Well! (Insert huffy breath here.) I was trying to keep it brief. I didn’t even ramble. I guess everyone was just incredibly thankful for the good and plentiful food set before them that waiting to consume it was a hardship.  I had prepared everything  healthier and  lighter with a  whole food mindset although I don’t think anyone even noticed that all the “unnecessary  stuff” was absent. All I heard was a resounding “thank you for a great dinner”. Chalk one more up for eating clean.

 

 

After mentioning in my last post that I would be making a wheat-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie there was some interest shown as to how it would turn out. Truthfully, it was delicious. I have made pumpkin pie in many variations over the years and I think this has to be one of my favourite methods. I didn’t feel that drive to overeat or the icky feeling from too rich of a dessert. I have tried everything from store-bought to tofu pumpkin pie to made from scratch using local pumpkins. This year’s was the winner! A co-worker/friend of mine came across the recipe and thought it looked like something I would be into so she posted it on my Facebook page. So glad she did…thank you.

 

 

There seemed to be a lot of kitchen activity this weekend and I even managed to stock the fridge with lunches and snacks for the next few days. We started the day yesterday with quinoa crepes with fresh, hot applesauce and real Canadian maple syrup… Mmmm. Yesterday I whipped up another new recipe to me – Banana Prune Cake. Very yummy and not too sweet. The prunes were supposed to be dates but I only had prunes so I substituted. Last night’s kitchen adventure was a speedy home-made hummus with extra garlic. Sorry to every one of you in advance that I am in close proximity to over the next few days. I pumped up the garlic amount in an effort to try to rid myself of the lingering sinus/ear annoyance I have been fighting for the past week.

 

 

All in all, this Thanksgiving was wonderful and reaffirming of the blessings of Life. Sharing healthy, delicious food, enjoying nature, and being with those I love has made beautiful memories and a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.

 

“Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”   – William James

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Brassica oleracea

Kale, beautiful kale. This year was the first time I have grown kale in my garden. To be honest, it’s the first time in my life that I have ever eaten kale as well (to the best of my knowledge). I love leafy greens such as chard, spinach and those delectable dainty salad greens such as arugula, but had surprisingly never been enticed by kale. Now I love it!  It is such an incredibly lush looking specimen with its large blue-green leaves. I am fascinated by its natural waxiness that makes water bead and roll off its leaves upon contact. Yes, I enjoy the little things in my daily life to the extreme. Makes me appreciate the world around me more when I take the time to notice the minute details.

Solanum melongenm

Aubergine, brinjal, eggplant.

I have learned so much this season.  I knew that the eggplant is a member of the nightshade family – a relative of tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. I knew this because, according to a naturopath I consulted with years ago, I was to avoid all members of the nightshade family. Guess I don’t follow advice very well, eh?  I am nutty for nightshades but try to keep my consumption moderate. I used to eat tomato sandwiches every day for a period of time when I was in my 20’s until I realized this was a reason I felt “off”.  Everything in moderation.

Yes, that is an arm in the background not part of the plant. This is an eggplant, not an arm-plant.

I recently learned that the eggplant is not actually a vegetable, but a fruit. I was aware that tomatoes are fruits but never considered the eggplant anything other than an intriguing  veggie. Not only is the eggplant a fruit but (wait for it)…it is a berry! Say what?  The plant world is fantastic, isn’t it?

The lovely eggplant is not a powerhouse of nutrients but does contain fiber and antioxidants.  Plus, it’s nice to shake up the variety of vegetables on offer at the  dinner table.

Cucumis sativus

My cucumber plant is going berserk. It took a bit to get going at the beginning of the season then just took off. I would normally have pinched it off but since it seems to be doing so well on top of the pergola I think I’ll just let it do its thing.  My daughter asked me recently if the cucumber was in the same plant family as squash. She was “bang on”. Squash, melons and cukes are all part of one big happy family.

Useful for so much more than munching on or slapping on your eyes when they are puffy or tired, cucumbers are very versatile.

– cucumber can be used to quickly shine shoes and repel water
– tightens collagen in the skin for instant firming action
– it is suggested that cucumber skin can erase pen, marker or crayon – I haven’t tested this one so try at your own risk
I love cucumber in a glass of water on a hot day instead of lemons or limes. 

Capsicum annuum “Tequila Sunrise”

I am so excited to taste this variety of pepper. It looks so spectacular against the green leaves.

Lycopersicon esculentum  

The tomatoes are starting to ripen. We have harvested a couple of bowls full at this point with a plethora left to pluck upon ripening. I have been enjoying the “chocolate” variety over the past week. I love the subtle differences between the varieties. The distinguishable tastes, acidity, texture differences…oh my!

This truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”     ~Hanna Rion

Over the Moon with Glee

I am over the moon with glee! Yes, I said glee. The joyous, crazy-happy, smiling like a lunatic kind of glee.

The reason? Why I have harvested my first tomatoes of the summer, of course.

First tomatoes of the summer from my garden.

When I purchased the starter plants, the tag stated that they were a yellow pear variety but I’m kind of thinking they were tagged incorrectly. They look like yellow plum to me. No worries, they are still heirloom, organically grown and oh-s0 incredibly delicious.

I decided that these little lovelies would be best showcased as insalata Caprese. Or the rustic Canadian version of such. Since I am the only one in my house that likes (in my case, loves) tomatoes, I only made a small bowl to enjoy with my dinner.

Tonight’s dinner was enjoyed alfresco, overlooking the garden.

Prior to dinner I took a stroll through the garden to see how the other plants were doing. The eggplant has loads of blossoms and one fascinating fruit. I never realized just how beautiful an eggplant plant really is until recently. The leaves a large and lush and the blossoms are  fragile and genteel looking but with a strength that can withstand brutal winds. Quite interesting. But it is the fruit that is really breathtaking. It almost doesn’t look real as it emerges. I walked past it for a few days before it dawned on me that this was the fruit. I can’t get enough of how intriguing the eggplant is.

This post started as a salute to the glorious  tomato and quickly veered of course, for that I apologize.

I love the meals of summer that are casual yet so robust in flavour simply from the few ingredients that are fresh and over-flowing with taste in their purest form.

I am super easy to please these days. Fresh fruit and veggies with some grains thrown in for good measure and I am happy as a…honey bee collecting pollen.

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”    -Lewis Grizzard

Fruits of my Labour

I’m so excited! I have started harvesting from the garden. It is slim pickings just yet but it is such a great feeling to be picking and eating the fruits of my labour. Last night we ate this beauty – a Purple Beauty pepper. The colour is impressive, to say the least. The inside flesh is green and it tastes like a green pepper with a thinner skin. Lovely.

There were a few jalapenos that were ripe for the picking. Very tasty, indeed. They were included into a big batch of vegetarian chili a couple of nights ago. Tonight I intend to bake some jalapeno-cheddar bread with the two jalapenos waiting on my kitchen counter.

Oh, so soon the tomatoes will be ripe and ready to grace our table. I am most looking forward to my first bite of ripe tomato. All the varieties of tomatoes in the garden are loaded with fruit just needing a few more days. My mouth waters in anticipation.

I have been enjoying the kale for a couple of weeks now in different ways. I sautéed it with garlic one evening for dinner.  Another meal I ate it raw mixed into a salad. And my favourite dish that included kale was a sesame noodle salad. I cooked the kale with the noodles and it turned out perfectly tender without being overcooked. Simply luscious.

The herbs have been gracing our table in different recipes for a few weeks, pesto being the family fave.

I have planted a second row of both purple carrots and beets thanks to one of the neighbourhood rabbits that obliterated the first planting. The rabbit has since taken to the Vinca in the front garden. I am pleased with this so long as he remains out of the veggie garden.

Happy harvesting to all!

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”- Alfred Austin

Schlop

I love the word schlop. If  it’s even a real word. If  it isn’t, I care not…I still like it.

I am using the word schlop to describe the concoction I have brewed in  my backyard. It consists of air-dried dulse, used unbleached coffee filters, and the coffee grounds that were stuck to the filters that wouldn’t shake off into my garden. I threw them all in a bucket and filled it with water. I will add a small amount of Basic H to the brew before using the help with penetration into the soil.  I have been collecting my used coffee filters and grounds (or is it grinds?) and putting them on the soil prior to watering. My neighbourhood Starbuck’s has been very helpful pumping up the volume of my collection rate. My tomatoes seem to be loving, and I mean loving, the special treatment. I haven’t been lavishing my beans with the same treatment since I read somewhere  that legumes don’t like coffee grounds in the surrounding soil. Anyone have any tips on this subject?

I refuse to use chemical fertilizers on my gardens and am constantly searching for alternatives. I haven’t been able to locate any organic or veganic fertilizers in my travels. I did some online research and kept coming back to compost teas, special organic fertilizers suitable for tomatoes but not beans or the other way around , and seaweed fertilizers. I  used fish emulsion fertilizer years ago but recalling the odour makes me gag involuntarily, so I refuse to subject my neighbourhood to the stench. The thought of putting fish bits into my soil freaks me out tremendously…shiver.

So I have come to the conclusion that I will be amending the soil without assistance from store bought products. Sounds daunting but I’m certain that with my horticulture background I can figure it out. Now all I need is to dig out all my old soil science textbooks. Sigh.

You may be asking why I am not using my compost that I had mentioned in previous postings. Well, I can’t hide the truth any longer from you. I am seriously avoiding the task of removing the side of my compost “bin” to get to the good stuff. I have convinced myself that a skunk family has taken up residence within. I don’t know this to be fact, I’ve merely repeated this so many times to myself that I now believe it. I did dig some compost out from the perimeter of the pile but to get right in  makes me want to turn on my heel and split. Which is exactly what I keep doing. I have started a new compost bin that is far smaller which I do not leave open or pile yard waste and sticks into. I think my problem with the large compost pile is that over the last few years many larger sticks have found their way into it which has created a lot of air space. I guess I need to just get over my fear and get to work. Alright, alright, I’ve talked myself into being brave.  Soon.

My neighbour  that has recently become a supporter of my eccentric ways (or is it simply my cheerful nature that is infectious?) caught me as I was running from my car to my house earlier today to comment about my garden. He questioned what I was doing to my tomatoes because they are so robust (compared to his plants, I guess).  I revealed my not-so-secret coffee strategy and  proudly pointed out my brewing schlop. He was intrigued and has plans to pop into Starbucks to build up his used coffee stash as well. Not if I get there first!

Garden Magic

We have lift off!

The garden is growing at full throttle and I couldn’t be happier. I almost suspect that if I was able to sit still long enough I would be able to watch it growing. It always amazes me how plants just know exactly what to do. Fascinating, really. So here is an update on the goings-on taking place in my garden over the past few days.

The tomato plants seem to have at least doubled, if not tripled in size since they were planted. They look healthy and vigorous. As you can probably see in the photo, we have not had any rain lately. The weather network is promising rain all weekend so fingers crossed for at least one day of rain. I feel as though the water police are going to jump out of the bushes and fine me whenever I use the hose to water!

 

Above:  Hooray! The seeds are sprouting! I am so relieved and clicking my heels that the seeds have all started sprouting. Here we have the pole beans about 6 inches tall.

Here are the beet sprouts. Teensy-tiny little sprouts that appear to be quite fragile when they blow in the breeze.

I am so impressed how quickly all the seeds started growing. This whole direct seeding thing is like a giant science experiment. I love it!

Here is where my mind was officially blown. Yup,  my jaw hit the soil. The onions just magically appeared the other day. I was outside a few evenings ago watering (or should I say, guiltily spraying water on the garden) when I thought I detected some grass shoots in the garden. I figured that procrastinating for a few days wouldn’t hurt anyone so I carried on with other things. The next morning I went out back and “poof!”  There, magically growing were four onions!  I can’t stop myself from repeatedly going outside and checking on them. Silly, I know, but they are so impressive.

Yesterday a neighbour knocked on my door with an armful of tomato and pepper plants. The poor things looked like they already had one foot in the grave. He stated that they needed a mother and he knew that I would step up and take the job. You betcha! I think these babies will be living on the rooftop though instead of the garden. No need to crowd together, there is loads of room for everyone. Plus, I’m certain that these are not heirloom veggies and I made a pact with myself about what does and does not get to join the in-crowd of my garden.

“In every gardener there is a child who believes in The Seed Fairy.”  ~Robert Brault

Gettin’ My Garden On

Fellow Canadians and I have been celebrating this Victoria Day long weekend, or more affectionately called “May 2-4”,  by gearing up for the summer season ahead. I have been excitedly awaiting the coming of May 2-4 weekend to plant my new garden. I prepped by scouting out the best heirloom vegetable grower in my area and scheduled a short(ish) roadtrip with my daughter as my sidekick. What a blast! I could not have taken a more helpful and inquistitive companion. We were elated to find almost everything we had envisioned growing in our garden. On the ride home we talked about every plant and seed packet we purchased with escalating excitement. My sidekick has, by her own suggestion, taken on the herb portion of the garden as well as the position of co-harvester. Of course I didn’t hear an answer when I asked for help with future weeding. Am I surprised? Not at all.

These are the beautiful heirloom vegetable plants awaiting their new home (a.k.a. our garden). There is absolutely nothing “normal” in this tray of veggie plants. By normal, I mean a variety that we could purchase at the average grocery store.  Come to think of it, we were so fascinated by all the wonderful varieties that I don’t think we purchased any red tomatoes! Oh well.

The garden received one final rototilling before planting. After the tilling, I cultivated the soil slightly to make it more even.  I then  took a much needed rest to rehydrate and cool off.  I would highly recommend this refreshing beverage of pineapple soda and Malibu coconut rum over ice…yummmm.

After cooling off, it was time to get back to work and stop wasting time. I laid out all the plants where I thought they should reside to ensure I spaced them well for future growth. Nothing bugs me more than seeing gardens all crammed together so the plants don’t receive adequate sunlight. OK, maybe that’s not totally true…I can think of a few other things that bug me more, such as rudeness, greed, lying, socks with sandals, and the revival of banana clips to name a few. Now where was I?  Oh yes, after alotting for proper spacing of the plants and leaving room for the seeds I still had to sow, I tackled the task of placing each plant lovingly in its new home with its tag so I could remember what I had planted where. The seeds were attended to immediately afterwards. This is my first attempt at direct sowing into the garden so keep your fingers crossed for me that they will do well.

Next task was to hunt down pieces of wood to write the variety of each row of seeds. I just used some old wood trim that I had around and wrote the vegetable type and variety in Sharpie, then stuck them in the soil next to the row of seeds. Reusing some interlocking brick from a neighbour, I laid a small walkway through the garden near the deck to deter  people from walking through the garden and crushing plant life or having to trek all the way around the outside edge of the garden. The walkway isn’t quite what I envisioned so I think I will be revisiting this project at a later date.

Evening intermission: enjoying  the company of great friends and dining al fresco under the recently constructed outdoor light fixture. See earlier post.

This morning saw me back in action in the garden. After lingering over my cup of fair trade organic coffee (yum) on the deck, I  puttered around in the garden for a few hours. During this time period I transplanted unwanted plants from a neighbour’s garden  and found new homes in another part of my back yard. I was then gifted with  some much needed tomato cages! Bending them back into shape, they were installed in the garden with the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Once the shade started to come over the garden in the late afternoon I watered it well since it was looking dry in spots and the seeds had yet to be given a thorough watering.

The veggie garden is pretty much planted now. I think I will still add a few more herbs by the walkway since we go through mass amounts of herbs.

The wooden posts in the foreground were installed so I could string jute horizontally so the beans can climb up, saving space. The posts on an angle on the left are for the cucumbers to be wrapped around, but I’m still mulling this over. I may remove them and just attach jute from a peg in the garden to the top of the pergola. I know from experience that cukes do well twisted around jute. A garden is never truly “completed”.  Marigolds were planted among the tomatoes to assist with pest control.

List of what is planted in my garden:

  • “Fortex” pole beans
  • cucumbers
  • “Dragon” carrots- deep purple colour
  • red celery
  • Beedy’s Camden kale
  • green onions
  • “Alice Sunshine” bush beans
  • “Collosal Red Mangel” beets
  • “Blush” eggplant
  • Peppers: “Tequila Sunrise”, Cubanelle, “Purple Beauty”, Jalapeno
  • Tomatoes: “Chocolate Cherry”, “Rinaldo” (pastel), “Black ?”, “Black Ethiopian”, “Purple Passion”, “Mollie’s Awesome” yellow pear, Variagated

I can’t wait to see all the unique tomatoes!  Tomatoes are, to me, the true taste of summer. I can eat tomatoes every single day and never tire of them. Just the thought of a fresh tomato straight from the garden makes my mouth water.

There are a few things left to do in the garden as far as planting and prepping goes, but for now I’m content to take a breather. My jeans need to visit the washing machine and my feet are filthy… I am a happy woman. My work for this long weekend is done and  I shall sit on the edge of the deck with my bare feet in the grass while I envision my garden growing.

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”
-Gertrude Jekyll