Sunday, September 24, 2017

Harvest wrap-up

Apologies for the lack of posting. September has been busy and I've been hampered by a twisted knee so sitting down to blog has dropped down the list some.

We have been busy. I finally racked off the summer wine. The strawberry wine seems to be a success. The rhubarb wine tastes good but has picked up some bacteria that gives it an off scent. Aerating has not resolved the issue and the chemical solutions look too complicated to bother with so I think this batch is headed down the drain. A good lesson on (I think) the risks of over-sugaring.

We finally picked the tomatoes one evening when the risk of frost looked real. Of course the frost didn't materialize.. . The window sills are now full of trays of tomatoes ripening. That triggered a quick tally of what we still had in the basement freezer from last year.

Interestingly, pressed-but-not-sauced tomatoes were the only thing we had too much of. So these frozen discs of tomatoes were sauced. We'll likely sauce and then freeze this year's tomatoes (less to freeze and in a more useful form). I also have a bunch of smaller tomatoes that I am oven roasting right now to freeze.

We have managed to stay on top of the apple crop with pies and eating them fresh. We still have sauce from last year so no need to add to the backlog!

We also picked the pole beans yesterday. These could have stood another few weeks of growing but I'm not sure we were going to get that.

I've been holding off on getting a load of manure for the beds. But I did buy a few bags in order to amend the soil ahead of planting garlic.We put in 51 plants this year (which is about right for a year or so of eating). You can see Jess below using the reliable "hang-loose" spacing method to get the cloves in about 6 or 8 inches apart.

I have a bit more work to do in the beds out front before ordering manure. We'll see how my knee feels this week! Today we are also drying the remainder of the herbs for winter storage. If I get time, I'm going to try to jelly the mountain ash berries from the back (another experiment in local foraging).

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Buffalo berry jelly

Every year, Jess and I forage some new fruit from the valley and try to make it into jam or jelly. It started out as a botany/history lesson and, as Jess has gotten older, has now morphed in an annual zombie-themed quest centring on the question of "what food is there to eat in Edmonton besides people"?

In the past we've foraged Saskatoons, choke cherries, rose hips, red elderberries, nanking cherries, crab apples, and high bush cranberries and made mostly jelly. Reviews have been mixed... . This year I wanted to try sea buckthorn berries which are everywhere on city parkland. As it turns out, I actually picked buffalo berries, mistaking them for sea buckthorn (cough, cough).

I'd picked out a couple of candidates this spring while cycling. Most books suggest waiting until after the first frost to sweeten the berries up some. I decided to roll the dice now as we had time and the red berries were fairly tasty (somewhere between a tart plum and a sour cherries). 

We ended up with about a third of a gallon (1.5 litres) before interest in picking started to wane. The thorns weren't too bad but I did get a couple of good stickings trying to bring a high branch down low for picking.

As we've had uneven success with foraged preserves, I just did a quick a dirty jelly with them. I washed, boiled and strained the berries. They could have stood a second filtering through cheese cloth but I was in hurry. The juice smelled (oddly) like cooking sweet potatoes or perhaps roasted pumpkin. Sweet but squashy.

I then added some sugar and a touch of lemon juice and boiled. The aroma changed toward citrus as it boiled. We got three cups of jelly out of this. I didn't bother skimming the foam but that would be an important step if I was going to store or gift (again, this was a quick and dirty effort to see what the jelly would be like).

The jelly set up nicely. I didn't bother to water bath such a small batch--they can just sit in the fridge until eaten. It has a citrusy taste and good colour. It is up there with chokecherries in terms of successful foraged jellies. I'm not sure I would do this again, but it was a fun project. And, we can try sea buckthorn next year!

The rest of the garden is winding down. The potatoes weren't super productive this year. I would guess a lack of water and compacted soil in the back beds are a factor here. The onions and apples were also a bit smaller than past years.

The tomatoes are going great guns. I see we have some slugs in our back bed holing the green tomatoes so I picked the low-hangers (that the slugs seem to focus on) and brought them into ripen The rest will stay on the vines until frost threatens.

While we wait for the growing season to end, I'm continuing to so some bed amendments. The bed by the garage had become pretty compacted over time and also invaded by crab grass. I cut out a touch more lawn to square the bed up and then started to loosen the soil. I'll work a big load of manure into the beds a bit later in the fall.

This afternoon's task is to get the rhubarb and strawberry wines in the basement racked off for bulk storage.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

...And back now

Okay, wow, a month has gone by without a post. My explanation is that we took a couple of weeks to travel to PEI for a family vacation. Amazing gardens (and beaches) and the red soil was striking.

We returned to an overgrown garden. The lettuce, in particular, was crazy and needed an immediate harvest before it went bitter.

Fortunately, the tomatoes are just beginning to come in. What a treat!

We've also started harvesting some of the root veggies. This turnip was tasty despite its huge size.

The potatoes harvest has been a bit disappointing. I blame a lack of water and some compacted soil. What have pulled so far has been tasty.

The apples are also tasty but smaller than last year (like half the size). Some friends let up pick their early tree this year. Below, Jess has realized I have let go of the ladder to snap a picture... .

We've been enjoying crisps and tastes and buns. Our own apples are just ready this week so we'll be picking one tree and continuing with the dessert theme. This is appreciated as the raspberry canes have packed it in for the year.

We arrived home to the back stairs falling off the house. They were never properly based and, as the soil around the house subsided, they have slowly followed suit. I managed to pull the stairs out of the way, create a proper footing, add some new hardware, and reattach them. It felt good to renew my man-card and cost only $40.

With that project out of the way and the onions and garlic harvested, I could turn my mind to renewing the NW corner of the lot. We originally put in four rows (a compromise caused by a tree removal). These were narrow and, over time, have compacted.

So I hauled some rock around from the back to establish retaining walls along the front walk and then  moved the soil around to create four full rows (about four feet wide each). There is also a half row out of frame on the right.

Of course no house project would complete with breaking something. In this case, the wheelbarrow gave up under the strain of the rocks. A hammer, a new bolt, and some mild swearing yielded a fix.

When the tomatoes are done, I will repeat this in the SW corner. Right now I have planted a cover crop and will add manure on top after the frost comes (all the beds need a good shot of manure).

We also cleaned out the bed below Jessica's window (further to the right in the pictures above). This bed had terrible soil so we planted a bunch of perennials a few years back and basically ignored it. Jess wanted a strawberry bed so I pulled out the perennials, amended the soil a bit, and then nicked some strawberries from an overgrown bed in the back. You can see some extra rocks in the picture below (Jess watering ins strawberries) awaiting the SW bed project.

Up next for is us fixing up the back beds. The potatoes are basically done so I'm slowly pulling out a rotten retaining wall (from almost 20 years ago!). I have managed to remove most of the old wall and dig away enough dirt that we should be be able to replace the wall this week. I think we can just burn the old cedar boards in the firepit this fall. We also need to rack off some wine into clean carboys for bulk aging now that they have clarified.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wine and jam

We've had a busy few days trying to keep on top of the garden with the raspberry season in full swing. We have made a couple of batches of jam, one of which I over cooked and turned into toffee.

We also racked off the strawberry wine and have set it aside to clarify and settle some. I've put Jess on raspberry duty. The 50 feet of canes we have put in over the past few years have become a roaring success and we can pick a gallon or more every other day.

I've been busy jamming.

We also pulled in the first crop of green beans and peas. The beans we blanched and froze for soup this winter. The peas have been eaten fresh.

We've finally had a few days of good soaking rain to break the heat. I'm hopeful we'll see a big push by the tomatoes over the next few weeks. As the onions and garlic come to an end, I'm contemplating some major soil amendment out front.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Berries for jam. Plus garlic scape pesto

We had a pretty week of making stuff. We started off with garlic scape pesto. The scapes were just ready for harvesting this week and I sent Jess out to get them.

We then cleaned, chopped, and blended with some oil, nuts, parmesan cheese and salt. This year's batch seems way hotter than last year's--maybe the drought? Or maybe we needed more oil? Anyhow, we froze them in muffin tins which is a nice appetizer size

We also made Saskatoon jam and strawberry-rhubarb pie filling for the winter. This is probably the last cutting from the rhubarb for this year as we were pretty brutal.

Jess also pulled the first turnip while we were out watering yesterday. It has been very hot and dry (+30C) and everyone is looking forward to a rainy week.

I also made from strawberry-saskatoon jam the other night. I didn't quite cook it long enough and it is a touch runnier than I might like. And we dried some saskatoons (meh).

The raspberries are also coming on and we've harvested about a gallon. If the weather cools off some, I will make jam with them tomorrow. The now mature raspberry hedge is one of my happiest gardening accomplishments. At about 50 feet in length. it should be enough to meet all of our needs.

I was out (watering.. again) and I see that the scary-hot peppers have fruited. I'm looking forward to drying these for winter use.

Ive been watching the north bed in the front yard and thinking that now that the tree stump has mostly disintegrated, I might spend some time in late August moving the soil about and amending it in anticipation of growing some tomatoes there next year. Tonight we're going to rack off the strawberry wine into carboys.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Tomatoes, scapes, and Saskatoons

Jess and I took a short trip to Calgary this week, leaving Jennifer in charge of watering during a gruelling hot spell. We came back to find everything in intact, including the start of what looks like a great tomato harvest.

My plan this afternoon is to harvest the garlic scape to make pesto.

I dumped an old seed back I had into one of the back planters to see what came up. Answer: poppies.

We're just at the end or the peonies but these are being overtaken by daylilies. I still see some evidence of some kind of a disease in the daylilies (mostly swollen but stunted flower heads). I've been deadheading the diseased flower buds and, over the past two year, the incidence is way down.

We drove out to T&D's Saskatoons this afternoon to get four gallons of berries. The berries were amazing--they have really plumped up in the heat. Our own bushes need picking as well--maybe tonight after it rains. The robins have been in the trees each day getting their fill.

I cleaned the berries we picked and froze three-quarters for later jamming or use in baking. The rest we'll likely eat fresh with ice cream. If there enough left over, I might try wine making. The strawberry wine is cooking in the basement and smells amazing.

Now off to harvest some scapes.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Peonies, poppies, and preserves

The peonies continue to bloom in the back yard, with new plants coming into flower each day. I don't think we've seen such a show ever. Perhaps the plants are finally becoming mature?

The garden is also starting to produce useful amount of food. We've been thinning the lettuce boxes to make room for more mature plants to grow. This is one of the boxes in the back. I tried to get a bit artsie this year with different varieties in one box. I see we also have a tree coming up between the box and the garage (arrgh) and a few volunteer bush beans.

Last week we picked gooseberries. This was the first year we had enough to make jam. The result has had mixed reviews. I like it (tastes like a prairie version of marmalade). Others appreciated the flavour less... . Not a huge disappointment given how terribly thorny the mature plants are.

The carrots have finally germinated. They were crazy slow this year and I wondered if I had a bad batch of seed. I need to thin these more this week.

Grandmas' poppies have also come on strong, essentially infesting a raised planter. They are pretty if confined here. Ive been pulling plants that have migrated elsewhere.

Our first experiment with tomatillo seems to be yielding fruit. I'll need to do some research on when these guys are ready and how to process them for salsa.

The perennials are also in full bloom. This is a lovely Persian coneflower that the bees like. I've started to thin the perennials around yard at they seem to love the vegetable beds.

The strawberry plants we put in last year have really put our a good crop this year. Not quite enough to make anything with but nice for fresh eating.

To get enough volume for jam, wine, and pie filling, we went to Strawberry Creek Farm yesterday. It was warm (27C) but the breeze helped. We picked about six gallons of berries in an hour.

Jess was a trooper; this has been a nice change over the years when picking used to be measured by how much I could get done before she got bored and whiny.

Today I'm racking off wine and juicing some berries for strawberry wine. I plan to start making pie filling tomorrow (in the early morning while the house is still cool).