Summer highlights

PoppiesSummer brings so many wonderful things and I’ve tried to appreciate them all: the wind in the leaves, the flowers, the sound of the birds, and all my people. With several weeks of summer left, it may be premature to award prizes, but here goes.

(1) The raspberries. 

It’s okay to play favourites, and raspberries are mine. They get an inordinate amount of the attention, water and fertilizer. Although I installed a watering system early in the year, one of the hoses split (boo) so watered by hand the rest of the summer. I made lots of jam, we’ve enjoyed raspberry ice-cream and I have many pounds of frozen raspberries in the freezer for future desserts.

(2) The arborist.

This year we hired a real arborist. He did a fabulous pruning job on several of the overgrown and poorly pruned trees, removed some, treated disease and fertilized others.   We have a bumper crop of apples, and for the first time ever harvested plums and a bumper crop of seven pears (it is a very tiny tree).

(3) The flowers.

This was a spectacular year for flowers. With the rhododendrons, lilacs and everything else in bloom, at one point this spring I was the girl with the most flowers. Cyclists stopped their bikes on the street in front of the house. Neighbours emailed to say how much they loved the display. My favourites were the enormous pink poppies in the front and saved seeds to propagate further.

(4) UBC Farm: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and the long table fundraiser.

The UBC Farm CSA charges $680 for 20 weeks of produce, including eggs every second week. My Saturday highlight is to collect my share at the UBC Farm. Although the CSA emails a list of what vegetables to expect, there are usually some substitutions and extra items. I’ve tried a lot of new recipes this summer (see below) and we’ve mostly done a great job of eating everything. Yes, I am joining again next year.

tart

This is what the tart is supposed to look like…

In July we attended the UBC Farm Long table dinner. It was just like it sounds – people seated at long tables in the poplar grove – except much better. The light was magical, the company was awesome and the food was spectacular. I’m on a mission to recreate the fruit and mascarpone tart that was served for dessert. I am not so talented with the pastry and so my friends christened the latest attempt as a “floop”, then ate it anyway.

(5) Quick pickles

We’ve been struggling to eat all those beans, so it was a big relief to learn to make quick pickles. I quick pickled crunchy radishes and beans, flavoured them with garlic and dill from the garden, and they are spectacular. Meh on the small peppers, however.  The recipe from Lucy Waterman: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/article-how-do-i-quick-pickle-vegetables/.

(6) Visitors

One of the best things about having a garden is that it is easy to share, and the best parts of my summer were sharing my garden with friends. Most of the visit involved eating. Having a new kitchen means that I now feel a lot of pressure to serve something special. I tested out different recipes on many of my friends and they brought wine, salads, preserves and baking to share. This part I hope to continue well into fall.

Okay, that’s it for now. Back to the garden….

 

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Badishes

This year I was enticed by photos of multicolour Easter egg radishes in the West Coast Seeds catalogue and recipe inspiration from my favourite cookbook. I read the seed planting instructions carefully, and did a first sow mid-February, then again early of March, two rows each of Spanish black radishes and the Easter Egg variety. Everything came up, the radishes were well watered by the rain, and appropriately spaced. Last week I pulled a few bunches of the Easter Egg ones (they come in purple and pink),  briefly considered taking a photo but ate them instead. The Spanish black radishes are now all leggy and bolting, but without any radishy bits. Boo.

This is the third year in a row that I’ve tried the Spanish black radishes and I have no idea what I’ve done wrong. If you know, don’t bother telling me, because I am not planting them again. I was chatting with my ultimate green-thumb friend Brian and he doesn’t even grow radishes anymore as he hasn’t had a lot of luck either.

Other garden things:

  • The weather is unseasonably hot and so we are watering all the time. Some plants like the lilacs, lilies and poppies are loving the heat, while the peonies are suffering.
  • It feels like mid-July and I am wearing my matronly Mediterranean Villa wardrobe every day because it is so hot.
  • Last year’s kale has gone to seed. The yellow flowers were very popular with bees and am hoping to harvest some of the seed pods for late summer plantings.
  • Last year’s Italian endive overwintered and then went crazy this spring before bolting. We enjoyed the last leaves in an over-spicy “magic crockpot creation”; we currently have no kitchen so are alternating between barbecuing and bad crackpot recipes. Tip: crockpot pasta is a bad idea.
  • Peas and fava beans are doing fairly well.
  • Last weekend I planted half a bed of tricolour bush beans and half pole beans.
  • This weekend I am hoping to plant all my “June” seeds: cucumbers, squash, cilantro.  I will have extra space for it this year as the only spring seeds to really grow were the lake storm: endive and fennel didn’t germinate, but if it did, the slugs got it.
  • Last weekend my West coast brother and I visited family in Edmonton and planted my Albertan brother’s vegetable box for him. I set up a daily outlook reminder so he will get into the watering habit. Mannix: beans should be up!
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A short birthday tribute to gardening goddess Elizabeth Loomer

violetI rely on a month-by-month birthday calendar that hangs on the wall in my office. When google’s artificial non-intelligence kept multiplying birthday reminders, I stopped using my electronic calendar for this task. Perhaps a function of my advancing age, I now have as many dead people in my birthday calendar as live* people. This annual reminder  is far from morbid, but gives me a chance to fondly remember family and friends who still mean so much.

Today, April 2, is Elizabeth Loomer’s birthday, one of the most devoted** gardeners I’ve ever known and my gardening inspiration. We first met in the fall of 1986, when I rented her basement suite. The small house in Cadboro Bay was surrounded by Elizabeth’s gorgeous garden and every window looked out on flowers and greenery. My parents were more practical gardeners and our yard was divided equally into lawn (with a few trees) and a vegetable patch where my parents worked hard to get things to grow. In contrast, Elizabeth’s garden was a verdant living entity that had to be tamed. Her garden and greenhouse were always full of wonderful things: enormous rhododendrons, unusual berries, and quiet corners where one could go to escape. She would bring the garden inside: gorgeous zen-like arrangements of branches and blossoms floating in bowls near the entrance.

In the years I lived there – and beyond – Elizabeth was second mother to me, and her daughters the sisters I always wish I had. Elizabeth’s enviable gardening talent (and the greenhouse) lives on with her daughters (both still in my birthday calendar). Today while I was working in the garden I thought of Elizabeth, and appreciated how much she changed the way I garden, with her encouragement and example.

In the garden this weekend

Whew, it was great weather, so I spent a lot of time outside.

  • I installed a series of soaker hoses for the raspberries. I am short about 15 feet of soaker hose, so left the front of the raspberry batch without irrigation as that is the easiest to water manually.  While the majority of canes are now budding, some seem slower and I worry that they are not well. I also sprinkled berry fertilizer throughout the patch in anticipation of the Big Spring Rains coming next week.
  • It’s April, so I planted nasturtiums everywhere.
  • I planted one row of Italian Endive, a row of Freckles lettuce (a slug favourite), a row of “Kale Storm” seed balls and two rows of Orion fennel in bed #1 next to the garlic (which is all up now). I activated the Slug Shield*** and am hoping for the best.
  • I did a lot of general clean up, weeding and admiring of small blossoms including violets.

The forecast for Vancouver in the next week is rainy. I only hope that it stays warm and doesn’t freeze.

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*Shameful confession: there simply isn’t space or time for the dramatic and self-absorbed, so every few years I transcribe only the deserving into a new calendar.

**Exactly how do you describe a good gardener? Talented? Gifted? Dedicated? Experienced? Visionary? A combination of some or all of those things?

***The slug shield is a woven copper ribbon that you can wrap around your favourite plants and around entire beds. One roll is enough for two – half raised beds. I also sprinkled around crushed eggshells in a sort of voodoo mojo slug repellent thing.

 

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Celebrating the first harvest of the year and hopeful raspberry propagation

Today I harvested the first bouquet of kale this year. I roasted the kale Melissa Clark style, at 450 degrees with lots of olive oil and tossed it with a Melissa Clark-inspired yogurt-garlic-lemon juice dressing. Topped with toasted walnuts, half an avocado and fresh chives from the garden, it was fabulous.

Dinner: Changing the Game” is my current favourite cookbook and features Melissa Clark’s fast (less than 45 minutes), tasty and adaptable recipes. I was introduced to the book through a cookbook club (cook bookclub? cookbook bookclub?) started by my friend Sarah. I am already part way through our next book, “Salt Fat Acid Heat” by Samin Nosrat. Although Melissa’s book has changed how I cook, Samin’s book takes things to a whole new level. She breaks down and describes each of the elements of cooking (as per the title) and teaches the reader how to improvise. Kitchen improv skills are essential for adapting to the sometimes unexpected combinations and quantities of fresh garden produce.

Garden update

Vancouver is still unseasonably cold, but things are growing. The peas and radishes that I planted three weeks ago are sprouting, so yesterday I planted a few more rows of each. I surrounded the pea bed with my new slug-repelling copper ribbon from West Coast Seeds and covered the bed with a frame to hopefully keep the birds from plucking up the sprouts. Still no sign of the fava beans.

Raspberry propagation: advice from the master gardener

One of my largest raspberry canes snapped off after getting weighted down by heavy snow last month. I asked one of my friends (who may or may not be a master gardener*) what I should do and she directed me to this website:   http://homeguides.sfgate.com/replant-broken-raspberry-plant-54577.html

I won’t reproduce the instructions here, except to emphasize that I washed the pots with soap and water and made up the potting mixture exactly as they advised. Each piece had about six leaf nodes, and the plants that I am trying to propagate vary in size depending on how high up the cane that they came from. At this point each of the plants has started to leaf and even flower; I am not sure if I should let them continue leafing or if I should pinch off the leaves. More research required.

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*Apparently, being a Master Gardener is like being in Fight Club: the first rule of being a Master Gardener is that you do not talk about being a Master Gardener. Or something like that.

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Spring planting and front yard rehab

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The snowdrops in the back survived last weeks snow.

Finally! Yesterday was the sunniest day of the year so far (23.96 kWh generated), so I was able to get outside and plant something. For many months the only thing I’ve done in the garden was to cut herbs and shake snow off branches. The whole family got in on the outdoor action: while I planted my seeds, The Man sculpted the hedges, and our awesome son moved 29 – 40 kilo bags of genuine Thunderbird manure from the driveway to the back of the garden. He also dug up one of the beds at the back for me. Planted:

  • “April in Paris” sweet peas in the rock garden. I normally have no luck with sweet peas, but I thought I would try. Again.
  • Three rows of Oregon Giant peas and one row each of Spanish Black and Amethyst radishes in bed 4. I hope to plant more peas, more radishes and some lettuce in a few weeks.
  • Favas in the open area in the back. Half of the seeds were from west coast seeds and half were seeds I saved myself.

Parts of our front yard really, REALLY need a serious make-over. The beds on either side of the driveway are fine, but parts of the front garden have gone wild. The two problem areas are (1) the front above the wall which contained a bunch of leggy heathers and ericas; and (2) the weedfest in the middle where there was an enormous tree.

Yesterday I dug up all the heathers, added some genuine thunderbird manure and seeded the area with giant poppies. I did a crappy job of drying the poppy heads over the winter and most of them moulded. Hopefully seeds that were left at the bottom of the bag are able to germinate and grow. If nothing comes up in the next few months, I may try some bush beans, marigolds or nasturtiums.

The plan for the weedfest was to plant favas, thinking that they would outgrow all the grasses. I was hoping to start to use that area to plant more vegetables in coming years because nothing says “we don’t have staff” than a row of bean tripods and a bunch of tomato supports. Yesterday I realized that there are too many spring bulbs coming up in that area (not like thats a bad thing), so I am going to relocate the bulbs after they bloom. I planted the favas in a bed in the back and am going to plant pole beans in the front instead.

Other garden-y stuff:

Indoor flower arranging. This winter I was inspired by the lush flower arrangements in the bathroom of my downtown office. One of the therapists from down the hall is truly talented: she brings in flowers, leaves and branches from her garden and makes incredible arrangements. This year I plan to do more of that myself. Right now I have branches of Forsythia and Cornelian Cherry about to bloom in my dining room (okay, three sticks in a jar doesn’t an arrangement make, but never mind), and I have cut some pink daphne branches for my bathroom.

New garlic variation. Just now, our neighbor dropped by with a few heads of garlic that he bought at the farmers market along with a dried garlic flower. He said that you roll the flower to release little pods that you could sprinkle on a salad or pasta. Although the flower looks totally dried out, the little pods are like mini cloves of garlic, and are quite moist and pungent. I don’t know at what stage they are dried – if it is when the flower first emerges from the scape or later. Since you have to cut the scape in order to get the most out of the bulb, it would seem to me that this may be a way to make the best of garlics than have been left to flower? Thanks Ray!

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My big farm hands holding the garlic heads and the dried garlic flower.

More veggies: This year my name finally moved up the waiting list to join the UBC Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). $680 buys you 20 weeks of vegetable items (5-7 vegetables per week) plus a dozen eggs every second week. UBC Farm grows vegetables earlier, larger and more prolifically than I do despite being only two kilometres away, so I am looking forward to this.

Next: Raspberry cane rescue

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The daphne is finally large enough to cut branches to take inside.

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Go shake your branches NOW!

IMG_7801If you are reading this today (December 19) and live in the lower mainland, now is the time to get outside and shake your branches, hedges and small trees. Although the rain has melted much of the snow, many of the branches are heavily weighted down and may snap. At least that’s the way things are at my house.

I walked through the garden with an umbrella and a broom. Some of the smaller trees and hedges needed only a gentle shake to remove the snow. The large rhododendrons and the hemlock hedges required a stronger force; some of those branches were already bent to the ground under the snow. I tied up the flat-top hemlock hedge near the front door to weeks ago to keep the snow from splitting it, and it is still intact. If you have ever had a hedge damaged by heavy snow, you know what I am talking about.

My awesome kids have shovelled the entire block as well as our next door neighbors’ runway. (Thanks guys!) Now I am back inside the house drying off and charging up my devices for when the power goes off later today or tonight; I’m not a pessimist, it just seems to happen every time it snows or when the wind blows.

This Thursday is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and a nadir for those of us who suffer from lack of light. This year’s winter coping strategy involves high intensity interval training (HIIT), minimal alcohol and foolish books, a strategy that seems to be working well so far.

Thanks so much for reading my blog this year (as infrequent as it has been) and I am sending you warm wishes for a wonderful Christmas and all the best for 2018.

 

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Late fall larch

The larch is at it’s peak: the needles have turned from green to gold and seem to give off their own light. When the sun shines, the rooms closest to the tree are filled with reflected gold.

Last week I ran into my gardening neighbor who asked me if I had “put my garden to bed”. I love the idea of my garden being “finished” for the year with all work completed, but this has never been my experience. Even in winter, there is always something that needs to be cared for. This isn’t a bad thing, as getting outside into the garden regularly is part of my winter survival strategy.

Garlic: I planted Russian red and Italian hard neck garlic at the end of October. I wish I had ordered more, as the amount I planted (3 heads of each) filled up exactly half a bed. I will likely plant lettuce in the rest of the bed in late spring.

Greens: Arugula, parsley, winter lettuce, chard, Italian endive and kale are all productive despite the cold weather. The self-seeding wild arugula that we ate all summer has died back, but the other variety -planted in careful rows mid summer – is thriving. Of the five types of kale, the ornamental purple, curly green, Siberian and lactinato kale are growing like crazy, while the red Russian is turning yellow. I have a new recipe book that favours lots of kale and crispy fried sage leaves, so am grateful to have an ample supply of both.

Goodbye rotted pile of wood: In September when I pumped water from the barrel at the side of the house to the irrigation barrels, I realised that the water wasn’t making it up to the back of the garden. I followed the pipe to investigate and behind the new compost bin/shed I found a large pile of wood stacked on top of the pipe, which had caused the elbow joint at the corner to disengage.

In the last three weeks we’ve pulled out all the wood, which included the remains of the old compost bin and the tree house, removed the nails, and neatly restacked the good wood in a better location. The rotted bits of wood are now stacked in the driveway for disposal (apologies to our neighbours).

End of the food composter: We’ve used a big black plastic city of Vancouver food composter in the back yard for just over a decade.  The bin was well used, but we could never seem to layer enough dry leaves and grass clippings between the kitchen waste so the decomposition process lacked mojo. We would have to layer the smelly sludge into the garden compost for an additional year to yield soil-quality compost.

Since the city now collects organic waste, it doesn’t feel necessary to sort our organic waste into what can be composted and what can’t (bones, fats, carbs, avocado pits and egg shells). As well, the food composter was moved a few times in the last year and the rodent-proof base was damaged. The plastic bin has joined the junk pile at the top of our driveway (again, apologies to our neighbors).

Festive greens: We are removing several large trees near the southern property line. One cypress died due to some root disease (says the arborist), and the other two trees are being removed because they shade the solar panels. This weekend I want to remove as much of their greenery as I can before the trees are gone. I am thinking of once again hosting a mid-morning, mid-week make-a-swag-and-drink-hot-cider event for all my unconventionally employed friends. (And for my one conventionally employed friend who reads this blog: I will make you a decoration for your door).

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