Opening day at the UBC Farm Market

The UBC farm is an under-appreciated green oasis on an increasingly congested campus. Last Saturday they held their first market of the season. Not only were they selling their own vegetables and eggs, but they had invited a number of other interesting vendors as well.

As I arrived rather late, I wasn’t sure if there would be much left for sale. Vegetables are often limited, and things sell out quickly. In past years they would list all the vegetables for sale on a blackboard and cross off each item as it sold out. I needn’t have worried: everyone in front of me in line was filing past the vegetables and taking photos only. I was able to nab the biggest head of butter  lettuce I have ever seen, some kale, radishes and a dozen UBC farm eggs.

Here are photos of the UBC farm produce compared to the miniature vegetables that I am specializing in this year. (UBC Farm’s kale and butterhead lettuce are on the left, my special miniature vegetables are on the right)

One of the guest venders was selling seasonally foraged morel mushrooms and fiddleheads. As I was making my purchases, I was swarmed by a group of about six people taking pictures of all the mushrooms. It was like a photo flash mob. Bizarre.

Since none of my cookbooks have any morel or fiddlehead recipes, I used the Google to find recipes. I would make both of these again:

How to cook and clean morel mushrooms. I served the morels with bread to soak up the sauce. They were fantastic.

Fiddlehead lasagne. I ate fiddle head lasagne at Feast + Revel restaurant in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and so I was super happy to find the recipe posted just few days ago. The fiddle heads are layered between sheets of pasta and goat cheese, then topped with a poached egg, truffle-oil laced sauce and baby greens. I didn’t have enough goat cheese so instead used some mascarpone which pushed the recipe into the caloric stratosphere. Prosecco helped cut the fat (ha) and paired well with the poached egg and truffle oil.

My plan is to make the UBC Farm Market a weekly ritual, but next time I plan to get there a little earlier.

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Compost Bin Make-Over 2017

Most years I pay one of my sons to dig out the compost bin, sieve out the rocks and sticks, and deposit the finished product in plastic bins so that we can spread it around the garden. He’s done this every year since he was 10, except for last summer when he decided that the compost needed more time to break down. This year he did the job in record time and produced the equivalent of nine barrels of fine nutrient-rich dirt. (Really, this stuff is so good you could probably mix it into a smoothy and sell it for $8. But I digress.) After his first day of digging he announced that the compost bin needed to be replaced, and that he was going to design and rebuild it.

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Bins of finished compost….some of these bins obviously need replacement.

In the fine Palaty tradition of father-son compost building projects, Jan and Thomas have already disassembled the bin (see below), have moved all the rain barrels out of the way and purchased all the necessary materials for the new bin. The existing bin is the third that my husband can remember building with his father and once even with his grandfather (who was visiting from the Czech Republic), which puts the average compost bin lifespan at about 15 years.

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Looking towards the corner of the property where the new compost bin will be located.

Thomas’s excellent design for the new compost bin is shown below. He has decided to include a covered multi-purpose area for tool storage and for smokers. He has also determined that we have been composting wrong for years and is going to take over as the Compost Boss from now on. (Yes, my proud heart is bursting like a Vancouver rain barrel at the end of March).

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The top view is looking North from my neighbour’s property. The bottom view is looking towards the back corner of the yard. The black cylinder (at right) is where the food compost bin will be located.

This was an exciting week.

A new hive! Despite all expectations, last weekend Bryn dropped off a small hive. The hive only has a single box and the numbers of bees coming and going is fairly small, but we are glad it is here. The timing couldn’t be better as the raspberry blossoms are now in bloom.

Favas! The fava beans are my best success this year so far. They are now blooming and the stalks are growing about an inch per day. I am keeping close watch to make sure that they don’t get covered with aphids again this year.

Many of the other things in the garden beds seem to be doing very poorly. The manure that I mixed in earlier in the spring is different than in past years: it seems to have a lot of straw in it and it doesn’t retain water very well. This weekend I started to top dress the plants/beds with the new compost, in hopes that it will hold the moisture or provide missing nutrients.

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Favas blooming: no aphids yet.

Wildlife sightings – Last evening I was sitting at the back of the garden when I heard something large pushing through hedge behind me. I saw a rough white stripe and I was gone!. Skunk!  Then this morning at 6 am, three racoons were having a fight in one of the trees in our back yard. We saw one fall into a bush, then the three ran across the back and continued fighting in the raspberries. And this past week a mole (or several) moved into my garden boxes. Every morning I would come out to a new pile of dirt around the periphery of two boxes. After replacing the batteries in the mole beepers (they go in the ground and release a high pitched squeak once per minute) the activity seems to have abated somewhat.

Goodbye Icelandic poppies: mostly yellow, with five petals and bloom for about a day, after which you get to look at the naked stalks for the rest of the summer. This year I have been digging them up before they bloom and have been throwing the dead poppy bodies into the garden waste so that the seeds don’t spread. So far I have been fairly successful at removing them.

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Sad bee news

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Lilies and trilliums

Over the last several summers we’ve hosted honeybee hives in our backyard. Having the hives was beneficial for everyone: the bees had a safe (pesticide free) place to propagate during the summer, we had an ample supply of pollinators for the raspberries, apples and zucchinis, and we enjoyed our own honey all winter. The hives were literally the life of the garden and we loved watching the bees as they buzzed around the hive.

I’m not the Hive Mama, but sponsored the hives from Bryn Jones in Langley. He delivered the hives in the early spring, visited the bees during the summer to check on the health of the bees and to add honey boxes. In the fall he picked up the hives and returned them to Langley, where they were cared for in the winter.

Unfortunately, most of Bryn’s hives didn’t survive the unusually cold, wet winter we had here on the Wet Coast. Colonies were weakened by the cold. Some hives didn’t have large enough clusters of bees to keep the queen warm, while others didn’t have enough pollen and honey stored. A fungal disease called Nosema apis spread through many of the hives. Of 105 colonies, only 25 survived the winter.

Although we’re disappointed about not hosting hives this year (and are currently hoarding our remaining supply of honey), mostly we are just heartbroken for Bryn and his bees. He is meeting with the provincial bee inspector to determine which colonies are salvageable and to make a plan. He has purchased 35 new colonies from New Zealand and will keep most of the hives on his property to propagate new queens and to rebuild the remaining colonies. We look forward to hopefully hosting some of his hives again in 2018.

Fava beans and the pea war

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Favas and a few rows of radishes. Self-seeded cilantro is sprouting between the fava plants.

The fava beans planted in February are growing well. Despite a promising start, the fall-planted favas all froze and turned black during the winter. Most of the seeds planted indoors are thriving, including pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini which I have transplanted into larger containers.

This year I planted peas in The Man’s tomato planter in February. When we returned from our vacation in March, I was happy to see the two inch sprouts and I removed the wire frame that I had used to cover the pea sprouts (big mistake). Within a few days, most of the pea sprouts had been rudely pulled up from the soil and the pea seeds eaten. Of course the green sprouts were left behind to mock me. I replanted the peas, put wire around the bed and also added a climbing net for the peas which has diverted the racoons from their regular route. Hopefully they will stop using the pea planter as a buffet.

Yesterday I noticed that someone in point grey had planted their boulevard with what looks like mixed grass and peas. I was on the way to a meeting so didn’t have time to stop, but I am going to swing by on my bike later this week to check it out and take photos. Their peas are already six inches tall. At first I thought that they had planted corn for the peas to climb on, but it is far too early for that.

Water barrels

With climate change, mosquito-bourne diseases are moving north. This weekend I finally covered the small holes that drain the rain water collecting on the concave lids into the barrels. The original plan was to glue patches of screen to cover the holes, but instead I found some fibreglass screen repair tape at the hardware store. Very cool stuff. I could just dry the lids, cut a patch of the tape, remove the adhesive from the centre of the tape and then cover the holes. I expect that I will need to replace the tape occasionally, but for now it seems to be working well.

 

 

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It’s time to get the garden supports in place.

Spring is almost here and within a week the first cherry trees will start to blossom. I can’t wait. Because of our long cold winter, everything is behind. However, I was glad to notice that the peas are now starting to sprout as are the radishes and some of the favas. Time to get the garden supports in place.

Peas. For the last few years my peas have climbed far beyond my too-short metal trellises (trelli?) and fallen over. This year I planted them in The Man’s raised bed that he built for his tomatoes. I hung a net over the six foot high frame at the top of the bed, so hopefully the peas will be able to climb and reach their full height.

Peonies. My wedding bouquet was made up of peonies, and I look forward to mine blooming in time for our 25th wedding anniversary. Peony rings can be placed around the dormant plants now. Some of mine have wide metal grids that the plants grow through. Later, when the flowers become too heavy and start to droop, you can gently pull up the rings to help support the blossoms.

Soaker hoses. Arg. My intention was to get new soaker hoses for the raspberries, but I think that I’ve left it too late. I don’t want to be moving through the canes now and risk damaging the little leaf buds. I did notice that there is a big pile of new soaker hoses in the garage….I wonder if I can borrow these ones and replace them with some other ones that I get from the store on the weekend…..hmmmm….

Last week I planted one more row of radishes, a row each of adagio and wild arugula and “winter blend”  mescluns. Inside I started basil, zucchini, kale and cucumber. Although kale can be planted outside now, it seems to be a slug favourite, so I am starting it inside.

Happy Spring everyone!

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Manurefest 2017

img_6354Yesterday was mushroom manure delivery day: 60 – 40 pound bags of manure stacked in neat piles on my driveway, 2000 pounds in total. I asked one of my sons if he would be interested in helping me move the bags to the back of the garden for 50 cents a bag. Before he could even respond, the other son was out the door, trying to get a head start. It became a big competition (like many things are for twins) with my sons running from the front yard to the back, carrying bags under their arms or on their shoulders. Less than 30 minutes after I took the picture above, all the manure was (neatly!) stacked in the back of the garden. They decided to split the earnings equally, and I gave them each a big tip.

I don’t move quite as fast as they do, so it took me the rest of the afternoon to top up each of my garden boxes – soil levels were down about six inches. I spread the manure through the raspberry patch, I top dressed the flower bed in the back where I grow delphiniums and borage, around the rose and hydrangeas and around the roots of a few tress. I think I only spread 20 bags before it started to get dark and I went inside.

Yesterday was cool but not unpleasant, and it was nice to see that the tiny green tips of the raspberry leaves are starting to show.  I pulled a lot of weeds that were starting to come up as well as the crab grass that is creeping in everywhere. I’m glad I spent so much time out there yesterday because this morning (and most of today) it snowed. The snow drops love the cold weather and have been blooming continuously for almost two months, but I worry that some of the other flowers and plants are going to be behind schedule.

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Rites of Spring

img_6285The weather has been bipolar: a month of snow and ice, followed by unseasonably warm weather, more snow and ice, and now more sunshine.

In late January, I took advantage of the dry sunny weather to spray dormant oil on all of my fruit trees and my single rose plant. I followed the instructions exactly and lavished the most attention (and lime-sulphur) on the old apple tree at the back of the garden. I spent a few warm afternoons removing broken branches and weeding, and admired all the snowdrops, tiny pink cyclamen, the first daphne buds, and budding rhododendrons. It was even warm enough to sit outside with a glass of wine (see above).

The day after the groundhog predicted an early spring, it snowed: hard and heavy. The cypress and hemlocks seem most susceptible to snow loading, and I used my sons bo-staff (think: Obi Wan Kenobi) to knock the heavy snow off the branches. There was so much snow that my kids built an igloo at the back of the garden equipped with speakers and wifi (see below).

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img_6307Today, it was brilliantly sunny again, but not warm. I cleaned out all the bird houses and put them up facing “east-ish” using zap-straps. I intend to take them down each fall, so the zap straps make the bird houses easy to remove and don’t damage the trees. I was so happy to see that a chickadee checked out two of the houses immediately after the houses went up.

I’m hoping that it is finally Spring for real now.

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Big Freeze 2017

 

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Raspberries in the snow

Snow has covered the garden since early December and temperatures have been persistently low. Complaining about -2° Celsius makes us Vancouverites sound like wimps (and I can hear the Albertans snicker), but so be it. This is definitely not typical weather for this part of the world and the plants are suffering. Never mind the people.

We were careful to shake off the hedges, shrubs and branches after the first few snow falls, but we were away during the last one and by the time we got home everything froze. The hemlocks and the cypress sustained the most damage, with branches weighted down to the ground. Many of the bay laurel and boxwood branches snapped right off. I worry about the lavender and rosemary; the last time we had a cold winter, our rosemary died as did the entire line of lavender plants at the front of our property.

The upside of this weather was that for the last several weeks, the skies have mostly been clear and sunny. Over the last month I’ve spent a lot of time walking outside enjoying the changed landscape. We have been trying to tie up some bent branches and have cut off others. Since everything is frozen, the only other things I’ve really done is taken down the birdhouses which I am going to clean out before putting them back in the tress. I’ve also been cutting branches of forsythia to bloom indoors. The Man has been feeding the birds regularly, including the hummingbirds.

Although we enjoyed fresh kale fairly regularly throughout the fall, our last harvest was on New Years Day. The leaves were starting to get sparse and during the last cold snap, those remaining froze solid and are now limp and unappetizing. Despite what everyone says, I haven’t noticed that kale tastes sweeter after a frost. Our garden has given us herbs all winter including bay leaves, thyme, sage and rosemary, and we only ran out of garlic last week. Although the new garlic and the fava beans are already planted and sprouted in the fall, the beds are still covered with frozen snow, so I hope that the plants are well protected.

The forecast for the next week is for warmer temperatures (6-9 degrees above zero) and rain, so the Big Freeze may finally be over.

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This is what the kale plants looked like before the Big Freeze. I would eat this gladly. 

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A big handful of kale, harvested for our New Year’s Day dinner. 

 

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