Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beans finally setting!

After a fine show of flowers, the painted lady bean plants are finally setting some bean pods! Whew--I thought these were going to be a bust after more than a month of heavy flowering and nary a bean pod to be seen.

The Ireland Creek Anne beans are also setting nice, large pods with lots of beans (and mosquitoes) so it looks like we'll have some dried beans this autumn. The Mexican bush beans are also starting to set pods. Guess I just needed to be more patient.

Some annual flowers are also starting to really show. And this afternoon I stripped all but a few items out of the clod frame bed to get it ready for a rebuild for next year. The carrots and beets were a welcome change from the masses of green and yellow beans we're harvesting.

Around front, the blackberry bushes are flowering so we may get some berries this year. And something (slugs is my guess) is eating the goose berry bush leaves. Fortunately, the raspberries and saskatoons are bearing heavily. We also snagged a good haul of saskatoons from the river valley this morning and made pie. We'll see if the gooseberry has what it takes to survive to next year.

If the bugs will give us a break, I'll start to transplant some irises around to the front again and open up more room for veggies in the back yard.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

More berries

We took a short trip to Saskatchewan last week and had lovely weather. Things were very green as the ground was very wet this year.

We returned home to a huge number of yellow and green beans being ready to pick. We steamed some (along with carrots and beets) for dinner and then I frozen eight cup for the winter. I'll be doing a bunch more as I only picked half of what we ready this afternoon (back too sore for days of driving).

The raspberries are also really producing right now, and we had some with ice cream for dessert. While we were in Saskatchewan, we took a short hike near Blackstrap Lake and ran into a bunch of wild raspberries and saskatoon berries (as well as copious chokecherries and something that tasted like a currant).

We also ran across two berries I didn't recognize. The ones above are quite orange and fuzzy. The ones below looks liked cranberries but had a translucent white flesh and tasted very bitter. We didn't eat either (I wondered if the ones below were nightshade). Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Tomorrow the lawn and I will need to have a reckoning and we need to thin out some carrots and beets. I see that the painted lady beans are also finally setting seed pods.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beans, carrots and lilies

The combination of hot weather and lots of rain has pushed the garden ahead of past years. The potatoes have largely finished flowers, just in time for a bunch of lily bulbs to open up. These bulbs were ones I missed when I dug the bed last year.

The zucchini has also also started to produce lots of flowers and a number of small fruit. I will have to figure out how to preserve some of these (shred and freeze, maybe) for the winter.  So far there is no slug damage on these so I will plant them in the moister beds next year.

The yellow and green bean plants are also growing and starting to produce ripened pods (more so the yellow than the green).

These were quite good in stews and various Indian dishes last year so I've started harvesting, blanching and freezing. I put away about two cups this morning, but based on the number of small beans that are there, I think we'll have an ample harvest later in the summer.

I've also started harvesting what is left in the cold frame. We had kale chips the other night and last night we pulled up some carrots. Perhaps we'll look at the beets tonight.

I want to rebuild the cold frame into two, shallower units that better fit the glass and space that I have so we'll need to do that next week in order to get some autumn crops going.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Raspberry picking

Raspberry season has started a couple of weeks early this year. I noticed a few berries in the front yard were ripening this morning and it turns out that Roy's Raspberries opened for picking today.

Between us, Jess and I managed to pick three pails of berries in about an hour. The berries were big, juicy and all on the tops and outsides of the bushes. I think we paid $47 for about 10 litres.

I've dropped a bunch in the freezer (4 litres) for jamming later on and we froze the rest of eating or baking. Oh, and I kept some out for ice cream tonight.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saskatoon picking

The Saskatoon season seems to be a week or two earlier this year than last and Jess and I have been picking. Yesterday we culled the early berries from a neighbour's bush (we will give him some potatoes or tomatoes later in the year) and managed to get 4 litres. I decided to freeze them and make jam later.

Today we rode down to the plants we found in the valley and picked about 2 cups. There were lots of berries but they are a bit further behind than those in our yard. Poor soil and uneven moisture might account for some of that.

I'd forgotten what bush picking was like--thistle, rose bushes, bugs on me, bugs on the berries, ass-over-tea-kettle down the muddy slope. Good stuff!

We'll likely head back monday to both places and see what we can grab. Right now the peas in the alley need some attention (which helps flesh out dinner plans).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Strawberry jam

Finally some cooler weather! As the garden got a watering yesterday, I decided to turn about half of the strawberries we picked on Monday into jam. I did two batches, each yielding about six 250ml jars.

Other than a few burns and one jar that failed the waterbath (I think I forgot to tighten the band before putting it in--trying to do too many things at once), we had a good outcome. I decided to forgo pectin this year and just use sugar and a bit of lemon juice. We had a nice result last year (tasted like Woodward's strawberry jam) with this approach.

With a couple of hours of stirring to do, I worked out the per-jar cost. Exclusive of labour and the cost of jars and bands (but including fruit, sugar, lids and a guess at energy), I think these jars cost about $3 each. I don't think this is any sort of great deal, but the jam sure does taste good, especially in the middle of winter. I'd say our next batch of jam will be Saskatoon berries--likely in two weeks or so. As we still have several jars of cherry preserves from last year, I think I'll forgo these this year unless Operation Fruit Rescue comes through with some free cherries.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Garden peas and lilies

We planted a bunch of shelling peas this year and they are starting to ripen. We spent an enjoyable half hour collecting and shelling them on the porch yesterday.

I'd thought we might freeze some of these but they are rather popular around the house so I think we'll just put up the green beans instead. I way over planted the green and yellow beans and will reverse the proportions next year!

The lilies have started to bloom, including this bulb in the back. Over the years we've had a bunch go while (right now they are coming up on the potato bed despite my careful digging and sifting last fall).

The day lilies are also blooming. These small yellow ones on the side survived transplant last year and seem to have taken off.

These much larger orange ones (the flower-head if often elbow height) seem able to survive anything. We snagged them from the foundations when the neighbors dozed their house.

I'm keeping an eye out for cooler weather so I can make some strawberry jam and free up some room in the freezer. Now off for my weekly assault on the purple bellflower that persists despite three years of vigorous eradication.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Foraging Saskatoons

Growing up, we always used to pick berries and whatnot in the bush by the cabin. So, as part of my "love nature, dammit!" summer curriculum for Jess, we poke around the river valley and see what we can find. In the past we've harvested asparagus and choke cherries

We happened upon a large patch of Saskatoon berries a couple of weeks back. As the berries in the front yard are starting to ripen, I wanted to see if they were synced with the ones in the valley (for future reference).

We hustled down there today (before it started getting really hot) and found a few ripe ones and the rest about 10 days away from being ready. This is about the same as our bushes at home.

We did pick a few berries (maybe a quarter of a cup) and I popped those into the freezer for jamming later. We'll need better shoes and some long pants when we go back to pick!

We also scoped out some high bush cranberries and rose hips for picking this fall. Now off to brave the heat and try to mow the lawn.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Strawberry picking

Undeterred by temperatures over +30C today, Jess and I headed out to the country (well, 15 minutes outside of the city--it looked like the country) to pick some strawberries. Our old u-pick closed down and I happened across a new place on kijiji.

This u-pick is run by Kelly and Willis (don't think it has a name) on part of their farm. A pail of berries is $10 (which is almost half what Prairie Gardens charging) and there were a lot of berries. It is located on range road 231 between township roads 551 and 552. Easiest access is out Fort Road onto the Manning Freeway and hang a left at 17th Street (just past the jail). The owners are asking pickers to call for hours and directions (780 998 2136).

We had a great time, picking five pails in about 45 minutes. Which was the same time it took the temperature to climb from 24 to 29. We'll definitely be back next year.

Back home, I pressed Jess into service cleaning and cutting. I suspect a fair bit of worker theft during the processing. In the end, we put about 10 litres into the freezer (too hot to make jam--maybe next week).

I see some of the saskatoons on our bush are about ready to pick so we'll need to see whether there are some ready for picking next week. In the meantime, the peas are starting to plump up nicely in the back.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Flowers and more solar cooking

The garden continues to provide new blooms each day. Out in the beds Jessica is managing, the potatoes are really flowering. We also spent some time thinning carrots and replanting another crop of lettuce.

Around the side, some of the onions we grew last year but were too small thus replanted last fall, are starting to flower. I'm keen to collect the seeds and see if we can grow some onions from them. Anyone know if you can also eat onions that have gone to seed?

In the strawberry patch, a handful of poppy seeds that came from my mother's garden (I'm guessing in the late 1970s) and have been frozen in a gerber baby food jar since then have sprouted. Low germination rate, but they are 35 years old.

These flowers originally came from my grandmother's garden in Perdue, SK and I remember them from being a kid. I decided to dump the rest of the seeds in the same bed and see what happened--we had a mix of poppies and strawberries in The Snake House--the poppies shaded the strawberries nicely.

The mock orange is also blooming to beat the band. Maybe a mild winter and then dry spring has given it some incentive to seed?

Today's solar cooker experiment was bread. Same recipe I use in the oven; I just let it rise in the roasters. This took about three hours to cook using the reflector attachment and the temp was about 275F when I took them out. The loaves are 9 inches across and the front one is about 5 inches high (uneven split of the dough means the back loaf is smaller). A slightly longer rise might have been good but I was eager to get them in the cooker.

Looks like the weekend will be hot; hopefully there are some strawberries to pick shortly.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Experimenting with solar oven

For the last year I've been mulling solar cooking. I looked at a couple of DIY plans as well as a couple of commercially produced ovens and finally bit the bullet this week at Earth's General Store. Today I started experimenting to get the hang of it.

I bought the reflector set (and additional $30) to help with heating and the angle of the sun, especially in winter. You can see above the oven plus reflectors at about 10 am with the Sun hitting it full on.

I cooked some potatoes and hard boiled some eggs this morning and both simple dishes went well. After two hours both were done (perhaps a bit more than done) and the roasting plans cleaned up.

I was surprised by how easy this was and the heat that built up. You  can see the steam when I opened the oven (above) and it hit 300F at 1 pm (below).

I also decided to try a desert (a raspberry/rhubarb crisp to clean out some frozen fruit from last summer).  This cooked just like in the oven. Actually, it was more like a crock pot with no browning. I wonder if I should have left the lid off?

If I get enthusiastic, I will try baking bread tomorrow.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Beans, potatoes and saskatoons

After a trip down to the legislature for Canada Day pancakes, we had a nice bike ride and stumbled across a big patch of Saskatoon berries in the river valley. This is a nice find as it means we can pick Saskatoons without a bit trip to the countryside.

We also toured the Oliver Community Garden. This is set up in what was once a paved school lot just west of downtown. There are 120 gardeners here and the garden is immaculate. Below is one of the denser plots, with at least a dozen vegetables growing and enough soil amendment that it needs side boards to contain it. The raised beds (for accessibility) are also lovely.

Back home just in time for a major downpour, we made fruitcake, bread and put some more basil into oil for winter use.

We also noted that the beans have flowered. Below, the colourful painted lady beans are out as are the Ireland Creek Annie beans. The green and yellow beans in the backyard are also flowering and the peas behind the garage have set a huge number of pods.

The potatoes are also flowering. These are russet potatoes, I think.

Up next: We need to do a bit of maintenance in the yard later today after a bike ride. This includes starting to move some irises out of the back and into the front to make way for a pea bed for next year.