Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Visitors and pickled eggs

With my vacation over, things have been quite in the garden. Mostly we have been doing autumn tasks: digging potatoes, harvesting tomatoes and lettuce, amending beds for next year, and bemoaning plantings that didn't turn out (I'm talking to you, cauliflower).

We've been seeing more bird activity lately with this colourful bird (a Tennessee Warbler?) dropping on the weekend. I've been cutting and freezing carrots in the evenings. I also pickled some eggs a few weeks back to see how that worked--pretty simple and tasty even so soon.

Up next: We have a fair amount of bed preparation to do this weekend. I'd also like to harvest the rest of the potatoes (plants have died back). I'm inclined to make some applesauce if we can find some local apples for the taking. Or perhaps some more soup stock to use the rest of the celery.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Salsa, Stock, Corn and Tomatoes

We've been busy as summer comes to a close! We had a friend over for a corn roast which was delicious. I'm not sure I would grow corn again next year (a lot of space for not a huge yield) but it was fun to try.

We've also been eating these Peter Pan squash that I interplanted among the corn.

We made a couple litres of salsa this week which has proven delicious.

The garden is also beginning to yield larger tomatoes. I expect we'll be making more salsa as these ripen.

I made six litres of soup stock (now frozen) from various odds and ends in the garden (the skin from the salsa tomatoes, for example). That proved to be a snap and we'll likely make more as we have lots of celery. I must grow some leeks next year.

We could also stand to harvest and freeze a bunch of carrots, but I need a bit of a break this weekend. One of the carrots has started to go to seed so I'm going to let it alone and see what happens (despite what everyone says about F2 plants).

Now back to digging potatoes and trying to improve the soil a bit for next year!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Relish, applesauce and oven roasted tomatoes

We had a busy weekend of cycling, a trip to the 104th street market and putting up some food for winter.

Our friends Lara and Ryan offered us some apples from their tree so we brought home two bags. Jennifer pitched in to peel, core and quarter 36 cups of apples (my hero!) while I sauced them.

We got just over four litres of apples sauce and the remainder was delicious on oatmeal in the morning. While the prep was a bear, this was perhaps the easiest of the fruits to can and I would do applesauce again in a minute.

I also wanted to make relish with some peppers and cucumbers we picked up at the market. I ran out of celery and ended up out in the garden in my boxer shorts hacking down one of the four celery plants Jess and I grew this year.

I've never grown celery (or even seen it fresh from the garden) so this was an adventure. The knife in the photo is 12 inches long and I've glad I had it to severe the huge tap root that the plant had. I'd definitely grow this again next year.

The fresh celery was quite a lot more flavourful than the store bought (which might be blanched a bit?). After two hours of prep cutting (again by Jenn) she went out and I sweated it out in the kitchen (it was 32C outside).

We made six 500ml lars of relish and it tastes really quite good. Jenn, who is not a relish fan, was even impressed! We also made 48 oven-roasted tomatoes this weekend--half we're eating and half I froze. We had some on a bagette (with basil and asiago) for lunch today on a hike and it was fantastic.

Up next: As my vacation comes to a close, I'm checking off the things I wanted to preserve and try quite quickly. If I get ambitious today, I will make soup stock while the bread is rising. Tomorrow we're having a corn roast with potatoes and perhaps the little pan fryer squash I've been growing in corn patch. Maybe I make some salsa on the weekend. We'll also need to dig some potatoes as the plants are dying back.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flowers and preserving

We've hit the high point of the garden this year and we're now starting to harvest, preserve and prep a bit for next year. I've spent some time composting the empty spots left by the potatoes we've eaten. In a couple of spots, I then planted the onion bulbs that didn't really grow much this summer (due to bad placement) for an early start next year.

This weekend we'll be making applesauce with fruit from a neighbour's tree. We'll also be making some sundried tomatoes (some to eat and some to freeze) again. And I frozen some basil in oil last night for winter stews and sauces.

I also put away a bunch of dried chives for breads. If the market has enough cucumbers this weekend we'll also be making some relish. I'm keen to put some of my larger jars back to work now that I have a stock pot big enough to hot-water bath them.

At some point, I will continue digging the new potato bed in the backyard. That said, I saw an amazing video on line of a fellow who grew potatoes in a pot and had great results. I may try that next year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


We ended up staggering the planting of potatoes, with a few late plants to fill in holes where there was a failure of one plant or another. So we have some potatoes just blooming out back while other plants are starting to die back in the front.

We went out the other day and pulled up the most withered of the russet and shepody plants to see what we ended up with. The soil out front is fairly nasty so there was a harvest but it was modest (about 6 potatoes per plant, one big and five smaller).

The russet are delicious, both cooked on the BBQ in tinfoil and baked as fries. The shepody seem to be more of a baking potato (drier) so I will give them a try that way before I declare a winner. I have been amending the soil where we have pulled out plants, managing to get the composter dug down to the bottom. This will allow us to start again with a slightly less wet pile.

Up next: Jess is keen to try pickles and I'd like to make relish so we're hopeful to find some cucumbers at market this weekend. I also bought a stock pot deep enough to bath some of the larger jars that I have so we should be able to press some older jars back into service once I pick up some new lids. I also recall promising to make pickled eggs so we'll see how that goes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oven-roasted tomatoes

The tomatoes plants have produced a huge crop of tomatoes and now the question is whether they will ripen before the frost or not. The small tomatoes are doing just fine and providing great fodder for salads.

The larger tomatoes (the big one below is the size of a softball) are still quite green and I'm going to bite the bullet and top some of the plants today.

The question will be what to do with the tomatoes once they ripen. I sauced some last year and that was a lot of work for not much outcome; salsa was a much better use of the tomatoes, I thought.

I picked up a bunch of large roma tomatoes at the farmer's market to try oven roasting. This took a lot longer than I expected (about 8 hours) due to the size of the tomatoes. But the results are amazing.

My favourite sandwich is an oven-roasted tomato sandwich on a baguette with asiago and some basil that Col. Mustard's prepares. I managed to duplicate the taste yesterday and it was all I could do not to eat two or three sandwiches!

Up next: I have some basic gardening maintenance to do over the next few days. And then perhaps we'll make relish this weekend.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chokecherry jelly

My first foray into local food was about 12 years ago when I found a bunch of chokecherries ripe in the valley and added vodka for a very purple berry shooter. On Friday, Jess was keen to pick berries and I recalled seeing a bunch of chokecherries growing in some bush we passed on a bike ride.

Off we went for a walk with bucket in hand. We managed to get about 2 litres of chokecherries and also stumbled upon a large patch of wild saskatoon berries that we'll remember for next year. We got some funny looks from folks in passing cars but no one called the cops so I'm going to call it a success.

Back at the ranch, I opened up the jelly section of my canning book and cooked down the berries. We could have used another litre of berries and I ended up adding a bit of unsweetened apple juice to get enough juice. This morning I made jelly for the first time and found it a lot less work than jam.

What little I know of jelly is that one needs not to press the berries to extract juice as that adds particles that make the jelly cloudy. I avoided pressing and got jelly that looks about as clear as most of the darker jellies I've purchased over the years.

I wasn't sure it was going to set up well. But then it started setting while I frantically ladled it into jars. After some cooking, I'd say we've pass the gel test!

The taste was passable--not as delicate as crab apple but good enough to eat. It might be good on a cracker with cream cheese or maybe on meat (pork, would be my guess as a vegetarian of nearly 20 years).

Up next: We're making some oven-roasted tomatoes. And I've been slowly improve the soil in places where we've pulled out some potato plants. Jess is also keen to try to gather rose hips. I need to look into that a bit as I recall an ill-fated jelly-making session (i.e., there was a lot of swearing) at the family cabin where the seeds caused some issues.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Early corn

We've had a good crop of corn come up in the alley and some of it is starting to ripen. With some brown tassels on some of the larger cobs and some full kernels visible, we harvested five cobs last night to give it a whirl.

As I recall, we planted peaches-and-cream this year and the kernels had a nice mottled look when we shucked them. We then promptly dropped them in boiling water (about 3 minutes from stalk to water).

They were delicious and sweeter than I've ever had corn. I don't know if this was the variety, the short time between harvest and cooking or purely subjectivism. Jess even asked for seconds. I'm inclined to let the rest grow a bit more as we had a few cobs with immature kernels.

Up next: I'm hoping to roast tomatoes today we picked up at the farmer's market. And tomorrow I'd like to make some chokecherry jelly from the berries we picked in a local ravine. And it looks like a couple of potato plants are starting to finish up so we'll pull a few for dinner tonight.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Jasper community garden

I've been very impressed with the growth of community gardens in Edmonton but was floored to see one on our recent trip to Jasper.

This garden is located along the railway tracks just NE of the train station. I don't recall it being there last year.

There was quite a hippy feel to to, with nicely painted chairs and a few flower bed interspersed with very healthy vegetable plots. And the backdrop was breath-taking.

Up next: After a week away there are some surprises in the garden, including a fair number of cucumbers and a few small squash among the crn plants. I also think the corn is ready to harvest (at least some of the cobs).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Flowers and bugs

We had a quiet day of bike riding and lawn mowing (I love vacation!) today, trying to enjoy the heat. I caught this nasturtium as the Sun peaked over the garage and thought it made a pretty picture.

The cucumber plants are producing about one cuc a day between the four of them which is great from a salad perspective. I'd like to try to make relish next week so we will likely need to hit the farmer's market for that.

The poppy (below) appeared in the backyard. It appears to be from a bunch of seed my dad had kept in the freezer since about 1979 and gave to me a few years back. It was from my mother's mother's garden in Perdue (SK) and I finally decided to throw it out in the backyard and see what happened. Of the five or so tablespoons, we got one plant. As I recall, this is a healthy self-sower so I look forward to more in future years.

In the meantime, the new rhubarb leaves (as well as a few small tomatoes out front) seem under attack from a small black bug. It looks like winged aphids so I'm going to spray tomorrow with a bit of soap and water.

Up next: we've planted some late spinach in the empty onion beds; here is hoping that we get some to come up before it freezes hard in September.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Onion harvest

We planted about 100 yellow onion starters this spring and have now pulled them all out. Most have grown to a reasonable (baseball) size and their tops had fallen over and started to yellow.

Of the hundred we planted, we've used about 15 at various points, harvested 40 big bulbs and 30 small bulbs (poor placement) and the remainder croaked at some point.

I'm presently curing a bunch on the deck and we'll put these in the coolest room we have in the basement (under the stairs) to see how they keep. I definitely grow these again, perhaps around front next year with some beets and carrots.

I also dried five onions (which fills about one 500ml jar) for crock point recipes over the winter. As the result, the back deck has been fragrant today. While our food dryer is the pits overall (an inexpensive model), it does mean I can load it up and let to run unattended most of the day while I make jam.

Out back the corn cobs are about 12 inches long and starting to bulk up. I'd bet we're still maybe three week away from any sort of harvest. Tucked down in the corn are some tiny squash which are finally flowering. No sign of fruit yet but the flowers are more encouraging than the beans (which have huge vines but no beans!).

I've also pulled a bunch of chives from the garden to see how air drying works. This bunch might be too large. Certainly makes the office aromatic.

Up next: We pulled the first potatoes out from around the plants today and they were delicious. I've also emptied a few rows of beets so we're going to plant a late crop of spinach and perhaps swiss chard. Or kale, if I can remember to buy the seeds.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A great year for Saskatoon berries

Jess and I went to T&D's Saskatoon's u-pick yesterday. This farm is located just north of St Albert and I have been by dozens of times on my way to Athabasca and never noticed it.

It is the height of the Saskatoon berry season and the harvest this year is spectacular. You hardly have to move to pick berries. We managed to fill more than three pails in about an hour (at $12/pail).

We ended up with about 50 cups of berries for $40. Most of it we froze for pies in the winter because these were so delicious last year. We also made three litres of preserves (still going on as a write...).

We weren't the only one's enjoying the berries and Jess located all manner of spiders and other crawlers.

The garden is producing some good extras to add to the salad. In addition to cherry tomatoes, we've started to harvest small cucumbers (spiny bastards!)--these are just under four inches.

Up next: We'll be back for more berries on Wednesday--likely to freeze or maybe preserve with some raspberries--we'll see how much picking the troops are up for! We'll also be pulling the onions this week and seeding some kale and spinach for some autumn greens.