Monday, August 3, 2015

To create a garden

From this in spring, 2013
To this in August, 2015

Near the beginning  of the project in 2012... this in August, 2012... May, 2013... June, 2013...

to today, August, 2015.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Seedling shelves!

Pretty proud wife here - my self-proclaimed Unhandy Husband concocted a shelving solution to a peculiar problem I have been having with my seedlings. 

Two days ago I found something brown in my 11 month old's mouth...apparently he had been munching on a cabbage seedling and the surrounding potting soil. It looks like putting them on the windowsill isn't going to work this year! 

We discussed buying a cheap shelf to put in front of the window, but I have noticed that the seedlings even a few inches further from the window get much stretchier than the ones directly in the windowsill. 

...enter Husband With Powertools. 

The original plan was to screw little pieces of wood into the sides of the windowsill, and place a board on top, spanning the window. But that was too ghetto for this Husband. The new plan has absolutely nothing screwed or nailed into the walls or windowsill and is completely removable. I have to admit, I was mighty impressed!

Try to eat that, baby. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Garden Gadgets!

It feels like spring here in Edmonton! My bigger boys have been sent to take their crazy outside, and my cabbage and broccoli seeds are starting to grow on the windowsill! Are you itching to get your garden started too?

Last year, I realized that with three kids taking up all my attention, my garden really took a hit. I still enjoyed pulling weeds, but I barely remembered to water. And even when I did remember, I would be at it for about 32 seconds before someone would interrupt. And since I have raised beds in the back, watering is kind of important! 

This year, during my annual devouring of the gardening catalogues, I found a couple new items that I am hoping will save my poor plants from a drought resembling that of 2014. 

1) The first is the "snip 'n' drip" system from West Coast Seeds. It's a regular/soaker hose combo that you can put together however you like. It comes with couplers that allow you to have regular hose going to the garden beds with several soaker hoses coming off of it (just look at the link, it makes way more sense in the photo!). It just came in the mail today and I'm very excited about its potential to help my three raised beds do their best!

2) The other item I bought is an EarthBox. I've been eyeing these for years so I finally bit the bullet and ordered one off Amazon.  I have terrible luck with peppers (probably because they never get watered...), so I'm going to try them in here this year. 

Are you trying anything new this gardening season?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

some of my favourites!

So I've been gardening for a few years now, and I usually try something new each year. Sometimes I'll find something that I love in someone else's garden, or sometimes I just pick something out of the seed catalogue. If you're a fairly new gardener, I thought you might appreciate a few of my favourites!

1) I don't grow shelling peas - tried once, I hate shelling them. So I usually grow snap peas. This year I ran across a type of snow pea that is a triple-pea! It works as a snap pea (it never gets tough), a snow pea (because it's flat), and as a shelling pea if you let it get really big. And the best part about them is that they're very disease-resistant! I found that mine just gave and gave and gave - we had no lack of peas this year! And frankly, they're so huge that you only need a couple in order to get a full serving of veggies. My son actually told me "Mommy, I don't like peas anymore". That's how many we were eating. So, the title for BEST PEA AWARD goes to Oregon Giant!

2) Brocooli. I've wrote a few times about the surprising ease of growing your own broccoli. Normally I grow Gypsy broccoli because it is both cold-resistant and it doesn't bolt very easily in the heat. This year I found an article about Calabrese Broccoli - according to what I read, it's a very old variety that gives consistent and tasty offshoots all summer. So I tried it, and was I ever surprised! 

This is the size of an offshoot from Gypsy broccoli:

Now here's an offshoot from Calabrese broccoli! It's a big as the original head was!

And just to prove that it's NOT the original head, you can see in this picture where I've already made two decent-sized cuts from this broccoli, as well as all the smaller offshoots also growing. 

3) If you like yellow tomatoes, try a bush or two of Taxi tomato! Mine are so prolific it's not even funny. I've gotten about 30 lbs of tomatoes so far this year, and I'd say 80% of those have been from my 5 Taxi plants. Considering that I have 23 plants in all, that's saying something. About 1/5 of the plants have given me 4/5's of the fruit. So far. They're earlier than a lot of my red ones so I'm sure a couple of the others will catch up , but you really can't beat their productivity and sweetness. I haven't really found a red tomato that I love yet though. I've been planting Early Girl because they're reasonably prolific and early, but they don't taste like much. Do you have a tomato variety that you plant every year?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Growing Hospitality

Over the few years, I've been blessed to see some of the amazing gardens that some of my local friends have put together. There's the one with the giant dill and sunflowers; the one with the orchard in the back corner; the one with such enormous (but gorgeous) trees that barely anything will grow; the one with an electric fence to keep the local fauna out...the list goes on! I always get some inspiration from every gardener with whom I speak, and more often than not, I get something else to take home too. Whether it's a few heads of dill, a giant zucchini, or a jar of newly-made pickles, it's always fun to come home with a garden offering. Hospitality seems to go hand-in-hand with gardening, but it took this little cutie from El Salvador to help me put the two together in my mind!

So how do you practice hospitality in gardening?

There's the obvious - inviting people over to your house. I love having people over in summer and plying them with rhubarb juice, pickles and relish from my shelves, as well as veggies and berries from the garden.

Sometimes I'll bring some fruit over to my next-door neighbours as well. My elderly next-door neighbour even got into it as she passed all her old Gem jars onto me so I could continue canning!

Others with overstock in their gardens have given me much as well. This year I received rhubarb from several strangers, and in the past I've picked apples at the homes of people who can't keep up with them, as well as raspberries. Several years ago my friend gave me her over-stock of beets, and my mom and I canned over 50 jars of beet pickles. We still have some around.

I have heard of people that do the "plant a row grow a row" program for the food bank, and there are others that help Operation Fruit Rescue save the fruit (mostly apples I bet) that would otherwise fall and rot. They donate 1/4 of the picked fruit to the local food bank.

Then there are some more random acts of gardening hospitality - for example, last month I found a seedling on my doorstep, as did all of my neighbours! We have no idea who did it (although at least one person thought it was me. :) )

I decided the other day to propagate some strawberries from the oodles that I have growing in my yard. I planned to sell them for $2 a plant but I just couldn't do it - it didn't feel right to take money for doing what I love. So I've decided to still sell them for $2 a plant, but I'm going to give the proceeds to help refugees in Iraq. I'd love it if you would join me in sharing with God's people who are in need! You can donate online through World Renew (a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church and an excellent organization) or start your own garden-based fundraiser! Compassion Canada has a disaster relief program that uses local people from churches already in the area to help those in need. 

Maybe you can sell off some of those extra pickles. In fact, you should sell them to me. :)

So now I'm curious - what kind of gardening hospitality have you experienced or participated in?

Thursday, August 21, 2014


So apparently I've been bragging about my mother's pickle recipe too much, because everyone wants it! As far as I know it's not a family secret, so here it is!

For the jars:
- clean cucumbers (the smaller, the better. If they're bigger than 1" in diameter, slice them lenthwise)
- dill (the heads are great for this)
- garlic (one clove per jar)
- hot peppers (optional)

12 cups of water
3 cups of pickling vinegar
1 cup pickling salt
1/2 cup white sugar

1) Sterilize your jars. There are a few ways to do this. 
    OPTION 1) Wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse, then keep in a hot oven until you're ready to use them. 
    OPTION 2) Pour boiling water into the jars, about half full. Let it sit until you're ready.
    OPTION 3) This is my lazy option for when I'm going to be using a boiling water bath anyway. Just stick the jars in the pot and bring to a boil. 

2) Sterilize your lids. Pop them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. 

3) Bring the brine to a boil and keep at a simmer until the jars are ready. 

4) Fill your jars with cucumbers, a head of dill, a small hot pepper, and one clove of garlic. 

5) Pour hot brine over cucumbers until you are halfway up the neck of the jar. 

6) Place jars in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes. It's beneficial to put a pan with a bit of water in the oven, I believe it keeps the jars from cracking. 

7) Take jars out of the oven and let them cool completely. Make sure the jars are sealed before storing them. Give them at least a couple weeks to cure, then enjoy!

We buy the big bags of mini-dukes from the farmer's market in August, and 2 bags + one recipe of brine will give us 12 jars. However, my husband is a superstar pickle packer, so you might end up with a couple more jars and needing a bit more brine if you don't get yours packed quite as tight. If you want to add some fun stuff to your jars, we'll often add beans, carrots, and even snap peas to the jars just to make them completely full. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

And the verdict is in...

Yes, you CAN grow delicious apricots in central Alberta! 

Did you catch that? APRICOTS!! For real!

Two years ago I bought a Westcot Apricot tree on a whim, since it was 40% off and I wanted another fruit tree for the front yard. I was told by the nursery staff that it was actually possible to grow apricots in Zone 3. I was skeptical, especially since the first year the tree didn't even flower. However, it is a very lovely tree, fast-growing with attractive  foliage. The leaves at the tips are red and it looks quite gorgeous. Even with no fruit, I'd definitely love this tree.

So this year it flowered and even grew one solitary apricot. I waited until I was sure it was ripe, then I plucked it from the tree and sliced it in quarters for my whole family to try. I popped my quarter into my mouth with trepidation. 

Why? Well, you can't grow sweet cherries in Zone 3, you have to grow sour cherries. It's hard to grow sweet blueberries in Zone 3, but you can grow tart haskaps with ease. So I was positive that this apricot would be some sort of sour/tart variation on the juicy and sweet BC apricots. 

But was I ever surprised when the flavour that entered my mouth was just as (if not more so) juicy and sweet than any apricot found in a grocery store this time of year! Mind - and tastebuds - blown. It was like summer had entered my mouth and said hello. I think I might have groaned. It was amazing. 

Next year, if I get a few more, I might share a few. If you're really nice to me this year. 

On the other hand, if you'd like to grow your own so you don't have to be nice to me, here are some tips.

1) It doesn't require a pollinator plant, but it works MUCH better with. I have a nanking cherry bush next to my tree, but I believe a sandcherry is also an option. Check with your nursery staff. 

2) It's recommended that the tree be in a sheltered area. Mine's in the front yard and the wind tunnels right up our street in a storm, so I can't say it's exactly sheltered, but it seems to be ok. It does list towards the house a bit though. I should probably get a better stake than the tent poles I'm currently using. 

That's it! Thus far it's been my easiest tree. Yippee!