Sunday, October 28, 2012

Planning for next year

With a rather dreary winter day ahead of us, we decided to take some time to plan next year's garden. I've been doing some of that in my head as I dug the beds and thought about crop rotation and what would work well where.

On the east side of the property (behind the garage) we have five raised beds. These are mostly in the alley and, to my surprise, most of the onions I planted and a lot of the beans walked off this summer. So think low-value root vegetables are the ticket here. So we're going to do three beds of carrots (so about 450 plants), some zucchini (help yourself!), green beans and beans for drying as well as swiss chard and basil.

In the backyard, some of the beds we recovered will have potatoes and the rest will have squash (not sure on the type yet--I like butternut but never seem to get any fruit). This year's potato bed will host sunflowers, beans, onions and garlic and then some yellow/purple beans and peas.

The "bad" beds out front will have more yellow and purple beans (as I work on improving the soil) and peas. The raised beds on the side will see tomatoes, peppers, celery, cucumbers and more beans. We'll do lettuce and spinach under new cold frames.

We also carved the pumpkin today. The seeds are washed and drying. If I get ambitious, I will roast them tonight since the oven will already be hot from the potatoes. A quick review of the cold room sees us with lots of potatoes and no obvious signs of rot.  Now off to sweep the walks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


We dug out the last of the carrots this weekend and brought hem in. Some were eaten, 8 litres were blanches and frozen, and Jennifer made carrot cake and carrot soup. And the fridge is full of little ones for snacking.

We tried a bunch of varieties this year. The Yellowstone carrots did well along with the Nantes. I tried a short variety (above) did okay but our soil is deep enough we don't need a shorter carrot so I will try something more exotic next year. I'm also going to try careful spacing (akin to square-foot gardening) to maximize our yield.

I've almost got the vegetable beds dug, improved and ready for next year; there are two more beds out back to fiddle with and then some work to do out front (although that can wait until spring). I'd also like to get some garlic in the ground for next year.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Late season fruit

With winter approaching, we've been trying to tidy up the yard: emptying the water barrels, amending the beds for next spring and putting up the rest of the Christmas lights. As I've been tramping about, there have been a couple of late surprises.

The strawberry plants responded to late watering and have been flowering and fruiting despite the frost. These fellows are up about 12 inches off the ground and near a stone wall, so they may get some heat and wind shelter. A fun late-season treat.

Out front, the thornless blackberries once again almost got to ripeness. The one berry I atet his year was tasty but again a hard frost has ruined the immature berries. I think these plants, while cold hardy, just requires too many days to mature.

We still have some carrots to pull from a raised bed, a couple of beds to dig and amend, and some general tidying. But I think we're basically ready for winter. Inside, we're happily cooking up the summer's harvest and I have a pumpkin from the market to process this weekend for muffins all winter long. But now I'm off to rake the rest of the leaves up onto the perennials for the winter and maybe get a bike ride in.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First frost

We had the first frost of the season last night, so after supper we rushed out to bring in any of the remaining tender vegetables (left the carrots in the ground). It was a bit brisk (or so Jess thought) as we harvested a large bowl of tomatoes, a couple of cucumbers and some beans. The window sill is covered in tomatoes.

We also cut the celery we'd been growing and brought it in. I gave it a quick cleaning and put it in the fridge for soup making (perhaps later tonight). We had relatively few slug problems in the celery this year, I think because I put the seedings inside a little "fence" I made by cutting the bottom out of yogurt containers. there were a few slugs in one of the plants but nothing like the slugfest we had last year when there was no protection.

I can now finish digging the back beds this weekend and prepping them for next year. I may also start on improving the front beds (depends on how much juice I have). I'd also like to construct a couple of trellis' for next year out of electrical conduit.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Apples and garden bed improvements

Things have started to slow right down in the garden. We're still harvesting tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers but the rest of the plants have pretty much packed it in. We're expecting a hard frost in two or three days so that should leave us with only carrots (plus a window sill of tomatoes). I finally picked the apples this past week. The three we got this year drives the per-apple price somewhere below $25 each (!) and I will give the tree a gentle prune come spring. You  can see the hail damage everything took in August on the left-most apple.

Most of my efforts have been in improving the garden beds for next year. This year's potato bed (below) will have beans, onions, lettuces and more beans next year. It has been dug again (trying to fix years of neglect and compaction) and more leaves, bone meal and lime added. I think this is bed is pretty much left to be gently tilled on the top from now on.

This year's project (below) is also getting a second digging with more organize matter, bone meal, lime and some sheep manure added. The snaking bed on the foreground will be next year's potato bed. In behind, there is huge bed (block by the suckering shrub on the left). I'm thinking beets and yellow beans and perhaps celery. I finished all but about 5 linear feet of work on it today (the celery and cucumbers are still going).

On the south side of the house we have two smaller raised beds for cold frames. I have the wood for one frame cut and will cut the other tomorrow and screw them together. These are 2x4 (ish) and the glass I have should sit neatly on top. I'll be planting garlic in the left bed this fall and seeding carrots in the right bed come spring.

I have two others frames ready to go as well. These sit in the death bed, where even day-lilies and irises struggle. The glass nests into the raised frame and these will have lettuce and carrots next spring.

I have quite a bit of work to do on five raised beds in the back but that will have to wait for next weekend. I also have some more Christmas lights to put up, having strung lights in the big tree with Jess this week. Dinner tonight is borsch and baked potatoes--almost everything being from the garden.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

High-bush cranberry jelly

One of my to-do's this year was to make high-bush cranberry jelly. We went out Saturday down in the valley and picked a pail of these lovely berries.

Jess had quite a good time with chickadees landing on her hand to check out the berries that she offered them.

We also ran into a beaver swimming in the river just below where we were picking. I've run into these fellows on land but I've never seen one just hanging out in the current. We were far enough above to get a nice look-down shot.

Once home, we then boiled and crushed the berries and drained them to get some juice. Three litres of berries yielded about 1.5 litres of juice. This, in turn, yielded 1 litre of jelly. I don't usually put recipes up (as there are many better places online) but I had a hard time finding a high-bush cranberry jelly recipe that did not require pectin (I don't really care for the taste myself) so here it is.

Stem and wash berries. Simmer in pot (2 parts berries to 1 part water). Crush berries with potato masher as they simmer. A bit of citrus rind helps cut down the bad smell. Strain berries to extract juice.

Combine juice and sugar (2 parts berries to 1 part sugar). Cook over medium heat about 60 minutes until gel tests indicate it is ready. Jar it hot and hot-water bath for 10 minutes. I wonder if a tablespoon of lemon juice would have helped with the smell and accelerated the gelling?

The result was a brilliant red jelly that seemed to set up quite well. I included a fair number of immature berries in our pick (orange-coloured instead of deep red) to increase the pectin levels. It tastes and smells like cranberry jelly although the cooking process was a bit stinky. All told, this is something I would do again. Now back to putting the garden to bed for the winter.

Friday, September 21, 2012


With autumn advancing, we've been continuing the harvest. Sorry about the lack of photos--the camera went into the drink during a weekend canoe trip. A new camera has been purchased and I wanted to take some pictures of beans. I was inspired to plant some by Kevin Kossowan's harvest last year.

I think the clear winner this year were these red Mexican bush beans. They come out of the shell a lovely pink and then slowly darken as they dry towards the deeper red you'd see in a kidney bean. They are about half the size of a kidney bean. We have about half a litre dried and another third of a litre drying or still on the plant. I am keen to try them but I will admire them for awhile first.

We also planted some Ireland creek Anne beans. Meh. They are okay but I think I will try pinto beans next year instead. And we plants a bunch of painted lady beans (below). These are a large pole bean (lima sized) and took forever to set. Many are still too green to harvest and I'd like to see how they taste before deciding of they are worth doing again.

All told, we grew about two litres of beans in not very much space. I'm going to try to do some more next year (with fewer green beans!) as they are a good source of protein and they self-preserve. After cleaning potatoes and blanching carrots to freeze, this is a nice feature. After several hours of shucking, I will never look at a bag of beans the same way again. Next up: high bush cranberry jelly.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Potato harvest

This morning we decided to harvest the potato patch. All of the plants had basically died back. We likely could have left them in the ground another couple of weeks but there are many autumn projects awaiting attention so we decided to haul them out now when I had some time.

I dug and Jess picked and we had the bed (about 200 square feet) done in about 70 minutes. There were roughly 20 plants (a couple I'd dug earlier in the season), a mix of russet and blue caribe.

In the end, we had about 150lbs of potatoes. Not bad for $15 bucks worth of seed (so 10 cents a pound) and a bit of hoeing during the year. I keep thinking I should turn under more lawn to grow more potatoes--especially the useless 2000 square feet of boulevard grass on the south side of the house.

The russet were good sized and no sign of scab (which is good--I can then bring potatoes back to this bed in a couple of years). The blue caribe were crazy big. The picture below shows Jess (who is about five feet tall). Have a look at the potato closest to the camera in great-grandma's old steel tub.

We're also slowly harvesting the tomatoes (mostly for eating) and cucumbers and carrots. Each day I also go out and pull off the ripe bean pods and shuck them and leave them to dry. I think we'll do more beans next year.

We finally finished preserving the crab apples we picked down the lane. I made four jars of spiced crab apples (which turned out alright given this was my first try) and another three litres of crab apple jelly. About the only remaining canning I plan to do are high bush cranberry jelly--maybe this week if I can find the time.

I'm pretty chuffed that the only fruit we bought (u-picks) for canning this year were raspberries and strawberries. Swapping picking rights for future produce with the fellow down the lane was been quite useful (giving me an outlet for the seasonal glut from the garden).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Crab apple jelly

The smell of crab apples as I was cycling down the lane last week took me back to my mother's epic crab apple jelly making in the 1970s. Our neighbour was more than happy to donate some of his apples and we made jelly this weekend.

I was surprised how pungent the juice was once we'd boiled the apples. The jelly itself was a snap compared to the work involved in jamming and we got just over two litres of jelly from a double recipe.

This still leaves us with quite a lot of crab apples so I think I will try to make some spiced crabs this evening. I always enjoy eating them but have never thought to make them. I also wonder about making some mint crab apple jelly since I expect the pint plant is about to pack it in for the year.

We made some late rhubarb jam the other day. The recipe called for baking the rhubarb and sugar in the over (to preserve the shape of the stalk) and then jar and process it. That did not set up very well and will likely end up on my oatmeal. We're also starting to blanch and freeze carrots (10 cups this afternoon) for stews this winter.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tomatoes, potatoes and apples

We've kept busy trying to keep up with the garden these past few days. Jess made tomato soup the other day (uses 8 tomatoes, which put a nice dent in the ripe tomatoes on the windowsill). THis was also not a bad tomato sauce recipe if I seeded the tomatoes first.

We've made what I think will be my last batch of apple sauce (left) and apple butter (right). I love it but at some point we have enough and I need to move on.

This weekend we'll likely give crab apple jelly (maybe with some mint in one batch) a go; the neighbours have quite a large tree we can likely pick. I see also that the high-bush cranberries are starting to ripen. We'll wait until there is a touch of frost to get some of there.

The potato patch continues to amaze. While the russet potatoes are normal sized, the blue caribe are enormous and plentiful. The one potato fed us all last night (about 750ml in volume). I'm going to have to dig out some potato recipes as well as some bags for storage.

Now back to dealing with the tomatoes and staying up on the bean harvest.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The tomatoes have started to ripen and the window sills are starting to fill with quasi-ripe ones I have saved from the slugs. So this means tomato salads, sandwiches and (if I get my act together and lunch) tomato soup.

I love this part of the year where a whole meal can come from the backyard. Last night we had baked potatoes (dug Sunday), tomato salad (with tomatoes, onions and basil from the yard) and cucumbers with dip. And a bit of bread from a local bakery (too hot to bake).

I expect we'll be harvesting carrots and potatoes this weekend. The beans are also starting to dry on the plants and we've shelled our first batch. And I have a bunch of apples from an operation fruit rescue pick to deal with tonight. More apple sauce and butter, I expect.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


With potato plants starting to die back, we started digging up spuds today. Jess had planted a purple variety (purple caribe? blue caribe?) in her garden and we got a huge haul from a single plant. We also pulled up three russet plants out back.

Some of the purple potatoes were huge (biggest I've ever seen--size of two of my fists). Most were good but two had significant inside rot (insect penetration maybe). Alas, it was not dry rot. Laughter as I cut them open and a brie-like goo surged out quickly turned to alarm with cries of "oh God, what is that smell?" (hmmm... I can't think of anything that just happened that would cause a bad smell... now get me a freaking cloth to wipe this up!!!!).

Crisis contained and the rest went into a potato salad. A lot of the colour left the skins when we boiled them. But they taste good. The rest went into the fridge for eating this week. A bit of a scab issue on one of the russet plants so I'll jot down "no potatoes until 2016" on that bed.

When we were digging up the purple potatoes, I noticed that one of them had fruit (two in fact) hanging where the blossom had been. It looked like an immature tomato and, when opened up, it contained seeds and tasted like a green tomato. Same family so maybe potato seeds? I've never seen this before.

The dry beans are starting to be ready and I picked a few pods today which we had fun opening. Tonight I'll make some apple sauce that I'll turn into apple butter tomorrow.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton apple pick and jamming

I organized my first apple pick for Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton last night. Four volunteers and myself picked about 250lbs of apples until height and good sense brought things to an end. We ended up donating about 130lbs of fruit, with the rest to the very generous grower and the volunteers. The baking apples were huge (about 20% larger than the grannysmith we can get in the store).

I ended up with a small bag of delicious baking apples and baked three pies (two for the freezer) and a crisp tonight. Over the weekend, I jammed a bunch of strawberries and saskatoon berries. The mixture looked right and was sheeting but then didn't set up all that well. So I guess I made syrup (which is delicious).

We had crazy hail this afternoon and a lot of rain. This scuttled my second apple pick so we'll try again Sunday. The three trees we have planned look a big more manageable in terms of height. The garden seems to have survived mostly intact but the green beans took quite a beating and may be done for the season.

In the meantime, I will see what can be jammed this weekend if I have time to free up some more freezer space.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Beginning of the harvest

Jessica and I went out and lunch today to see what needed our attention this weekend in the garden. There is a linger raised bed rebuild on the side but we're also entering the harvest season. One of our surprises was that the zucchini plants were quietly producing monstrous zucchini. We found three like the one Jess is holding. I think we'll be baking a winter's worth of zucchini loaf this weekend!

We also pulled in some carrots (late season thinning), the last of the green beans, some early tomatoes, some cucumbers and some onions. A good chunk of this we walked down to our neighbour who let us pick his Saskatoon bush earlier in the year. What a nice way to get rid of excessive vegetables!

I expect we'll be able to eat our way through this stuff over the weekend but I also expect we'll have to start freezing some carrots, which means making some jam so there is room in the freezer for the carrots. Some of the potato plants are also starting to finish up so we may dig some of those next week when we run low in the cupboard. And next week I have two apple picks organized for operation fruit rescue edmonton so I'll likely have a few apples to bake with.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Apple saucing

After spending Saturday morning making sour cherry jam, I whipped over to our friend's house to pick some of the apples that were causing their tree to droop to the ground. These made lovely apple sauce last year so I hauled out the half-litres jars and started cutting.

The saucing itself goes quickly, but the endless peeling, slicing and coring was quite a chore. In the end, we made 24 jars (12 litres) of sauce. I also donated about 10 pounds to Ronald McDonald house when I took over the Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE) cherries.

I'm done saucing for now (out of jars!) and the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards are starting to look pleasantly full of jams and apples sauce. The tomatoes are starting to ripen in the backyard and I;m hoping to set up an OFRE apple pick next week so I expect to be back at canning shortly. There is also a fair bunch of berries occupying freezer space that need to be jammed.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton: Cherries

I organized my first pick as a fruit captain for Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton last night. I picked a small place (one evans cherry tree) that we could do as a family so I could see how one of these works start to finish before organizing a multi-picker event.

In about 45 minutes we managed to get 16 litres (about 28 pounds) of cherries. As the ants, wasps and birds had been at them for awhile, we sorted out the bad and ended up with 12 litres of usable fruit at the cost of one wasp bite. The grower didn't want her share, so four litres goes to OFRE and four litres to a charity (likely Ronald McDonald House).

I was up early this morning pitting. I'll make a cherry pie and a batch of jam tonight. We also put enough cherries in the freezer for four more pies this winter. That is enough cherries for me so I'll see what other fruit is available for picking next week. Today, friends have offered me a go at their their apple tree and tomorrow I'm going raspberry picking so I expect I'll be busy in the kitchen this week.

Our own garden is also starting to bear. I have been pretty good about staying on top of the zucchini but ended up with a bunch of big ones this week. Most we shredded or cut up and froze for stews and loafs this winter (10 cups).

We also ended up with another 8 cups of yellow and green beans. I froze some, we ate some and I gave half away. I'm glad the beans are slowing down a bit. I managed to also give away a bunch more irises and finished (mostly) recovering some more room for vegetables in the garden next year.

The dirt in behind the beans will get amended this fall and the raised bed taken apart and dug in. I expect we'll do beans here next year while potatoes will fill the foreground. Now off to compost a buttload of rotten cherries and pits.