Saturday, June 30, 2012

June flowers and new lighting

The end of June is a nice time in the garden: planting is done, harvesting has yet to kick into high gear and the perennials are flowering.

While the yard takes care of itself for a few weeks, we finished a long-term inside project around energy efficiency. A couple of years ago, some structural problems (ack!) meant we had the old house dozed and a new house build. Our new place is an ICF house by Effect Home Builders, which means it is a mix of foam and cement to the ceiling with extra insulation, triple-paned windows, energy efficient appliances, etc. It is a lovely home.

After years of living in a 1948 bungalow, a warm house with grounded plugs has been a treat. One of lingering to-do's was to address our electricity use. While we designed the floor plan to take advantage of natural light and solar gain in the winter, there are still a lot of lights and working at home means they are on more than in most people's houses. We initially fiddled with CFL bulbs and joined Bullfrog Power, but we've mulled solar power a couple of times.

The cost of solar has come way down in the past five years (about 50%) and we recently had an energy audit done by Dandelion Renewables with an eye to having solar installed. Alas, the shading on our house makes that unworkable. If the garage finally collapses, the roof of a rebuilt garage would be the place to out a solar system but our pocketbook hopes for a few more years from our 1952 garage (it is sinking to the north slowly).

The upside of the energy audit was that Dandelion identified a couple of easy places where we could reduce our consumption. After some mulling, we also decided to replace the 18 light bulbs we use the most with LED, and displace the CFL bulbs from these fixtures to replace the remaining incandescent bulbs.

The next gain is pretty large, even over the CFLs and, with the awesome prices Dandelion got on the LEDs (by shortening the supply chain) we should have full pay pack in two years--less, if the price of power jumps jumps this summer projected. Also the light itself is incredible. It reminds me of the WKRP episode where Johnny Fever takes off his sunglasses and then says "I can see!".

With that work finished, this weekend will include baking some Christmas cake, preserving some more herbs (the basil is going great guns) and freezing some rhubarb.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Beans and peas

With my vacation looming, I nipped out at lunch today and snapped a few pictures of the garden. Around behind the garage the beans and peas are making great strides in the warm weather.

The peas (at the front of the left-hand planter in the photo above) are flowering and start to set pods. I've never grown shelling peas before and was interested to see how they formed. Below, you can see a pod emerging from the flower (dry petals hanging off the bottom) while a more mature pod hangs to the right. Planting peas in different spots (with different sunlight) has created the effect of staggering the plantings so I hope for a prolonged harvest.

Climbing the wire at the back of both planters are painted lady beans. These plants are really climbing. Down at the bottom, flowers are budding (I think) in a brought orange. The beans will be a striated red-black, which should be quite colourful in the jar.

We're also seeing some potatoes flowering, green/yellow beans suddenly getting a real burst of growth and (for tomorrow) some really lovely perennials blooming.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Berries, flowers and potatoes

The weather continues to be very nice and the garden is really starting to fill out. Again, we have some lovely peonies beside the house--both a single and double bloom here.

The potato patch is also really growing. I planted each of these in a bit of a hole and have hoed them up as far as I can; I'm hopeful this (plus digging the bed last year) will increase the yield. The bigger plants (russets) look like they are about to flower.

Around the side, there are lots of strawberries and they are very tasty. I think we will look to find a u-pick this weekend and get some to make jam with. Our patch is too small to do much with other than eat.

The raspberries are also setting fruit and it looks like a bigger haul this sumer than last year. Again, too few to do much other than eat but there are a nice mix of traditional and darker raspberries.

Despite my skepticism, the apple tree looks like it has at least three apples on it. They are very small and match the leaves perfectly so it is hard to be sure I've seen them all. 

I spent lunch time doing some weeding and will need to have a second go at this. When the iris blooms finish, I have a bunch of plants to move to open up a new bed in the back yard for next year.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Flowering annuals and perennials

The garden is starting to look more colourful as both annuals and perennials start to appear. On the south side, we have peonies out and blooming. I caught these early in the morning, so the flower is intensely lit while the ground remains in shadow.

Around back the peas are starting to flower and fill in the spaces in the back bed where the onion thief continues to ply his or her trade. Why steal immature onions?

Around front, the last of the iris beds has bloomed to the north of a mountain ash. In front we have onions, bush beans and a lone tomato plant. This picture is worth clicking on to get a better look at the huge iris bed.

My plan to seed basil in the front barrel failed so I went out and bought some basil plants and also this carnation. A very pretty flower for so early in the season.

And finally another peony around the side. Not sure who gave us this darker on, but it is lovely.

This afternoon we went and foraged some rhubarb from an abandoned house across the street. Only in a boom town can you find a condemned house that is fall down and three doors up there is a new build selling for $1.2m!

Anyhow, a huge haul of rhubarb from a very mature plant--some stalks as long as my arm and a quick cut netted 16 cups chopped and into the freezer and 8 cups in the crockpot for stewing. I may go back in a couple of weeks as my own plants look a bit picked over.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beginning of preserving

We spent much of today on bikes out along the Sturgeon River in St Albert but this afternoon there was time to start stashing away some food for winter.

I started by collecting the first cuttings from the coriander, basil and chives. We use these in various recipes throughout the year so I cleaned, minced and the froze them in small discs of oil in the right proportions. I'll have to do this three or four times over the summer to get enough but the taste of fresh basil in January is much appreciated. I also took a second cutting from the rhubarb, chopped it and froze it to make muffins in the winter.

The onions are really coming up along the side of the house. No so much at the back where I continue to lose a couple of immature bulbs every week. I'm pretty sure it has to be kids (although why onions?).

The tomatoes are really starting to sprout up. These are early girls with a bush tendency that I'm trimming and staking They are about 10 inches tall.

We've also resown lettuce; Jennifer quite likes the Grand Rapids pack that we got somewhere so I threw them down where I turned under some spinach that had run its course.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Iris season

It is iris season here in Edmonton and the large bed around the bird feeder has finally bloomed. While the bloom is short for the irises (about 10 days), the impact of every plant blooming at once is pretty spectacular.

Around the back of the garage, a set of newer irises (with more mauve) have also come into flower, overshadowing the planter full of herbs. I expect the irises at the front will start to show on the weekend.

Also around back, the beans and peas are growing well. It is a bit hard to see, but the beans are already halfway up the wire I strung. The onions are also growing quite nicely, but a half dozen have disappeared. I'm thinking either squirrels or junior high kids. No adult would want tiny, immature onions, would they?

The apple tree is also showing signs of fruit. Despite the hand pollinating I did, it doesn't look like very many blossoms took. Oh well--maybe next year!

The potatoes are also putting out big leaves and stalks--faster than I can bury them! I expect we'll have quite crop of potatoes this year, although the russets are growing much faster than the purple caribes.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pickled asparagus

With a rainy weekend looming, I picked up some asparagus at the 104th Street farmers market Saturday and we decided to pickle it. I haven't pickled in a couple of years (I'm the only one who likes pickles) so there was a fair bit of stop and start as I tried to recall the timing of everything.

Jess did the jar prep, adding spices and chopped up peppers and garlic. Meanwhile, I burned my fingers on boiling vinegar and swore a lot (good family memories).

In the end, we filled seven 500ml jars and got good seals on all of them. I decided to water bath them (something I've never done with pickles) after reading a couple of different recipes. Hopefully they won't be too soggy. After the jars cooled, everything floated down a bit. Now we just need to wait a few weeks to try them out.

I think I'm done pickling for the summer (maybe a couple of jars of beets--we'll see what the harvest looks like) but I am pumped to jam and sauce. I expect a couple of these may get traded away at a preserves swap later in the summer. Now onto baking some bread and maybe making some rhubarb muffins.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Flowers and food in late spring

We're finally seeing some real progress in the garden, with a nice mix of rain and sun. We had our first "entirely from the garden" salad last night with the first crop of lettuce reaching maturity. The spinach and kale are still going strong but have mostly been ending up on pizzas.

The chives are flowering (and spreading), suggesting a bit of drying is in order (allowing me to refresh last year's stock).  I also put in some mint this year, although I see I grabbed chocolate mint rather than the plain mint I wanted. But chocolate mint must be good in some desert recipe.

Elsewhere, some of the perennials are flowering. This phlox is doing well bordering a shady path in the backyard by the clothes line.

The iris bloom is also starting. I have a couple of types of irises, including this lovely bearded iris. Depending on your screen, you may be able to see the lovely mauve shade in the upright petals, which makes this one so subtly beautiful.

The beans are now up and these painted lady beans have grabbed onto the trellis I strung behind the garden. The top running is now a foot high.

I completed my fruit captain training with Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton last weekend. I'm keen to pick some fruit but also decided to add in a few goose berry plants out front. I expect it will be a few years before we see meaningful amounts of fruit but there is some there already. There is also a nasty set of thorns on this plant!

Around the side, while waging war with the ants along the foundation, I noticed the first batch of strawberries have started to form.

I dropped into the 104th Street market today and I expect we'll pickling asparagus this afternoon.