Just about spring…I hope

Short version: I think spring is finally here. A rabbit was hanging out in our garden. Blueberries in the back, changes to the front, and a sauna.

Longer version: My last blog post (in January) was definitely not prophetic. I thought it would be an early spring. The last two months were not only snowy and cold, but the snow persisted for much longer than usual, and now everything is late. Some of the other garden bloggers that I follow (hi Pat2!) have also commented on how abnormal Spring 2019 weather is.

The snow revealed a new garden visitor: a rabbit! I didn’t see her, but her tracks were everywhere. Our bird feeders attract lots of birds, many squirrels and the occasional rat. We have a posse of raccoons prowling the neighborhood and every once in awhile we see a skunk. Although our cats stay indoors, other cats occasionally pass through our back yard, as does the rare coyote. But this is the first evidence I’ve seen of a rabbit. Jericho beach has a population of feral rabbits, so I assume that she may have come from there. Hopefully she was just passing through…there are already enough entities consuming my vegetables.

In January, one of the coniferous shrubs suddenly started to drop all of it’s needles. Over a month I cut back and removed the branches until just the stump was left. Today we dug it out – it was a major effort and took three hours of cutting, digging and finally torquing it out. I can see why some people might be tempted to use dynamite. In the space that was formerly taken up by the shrub I planted eight blueberry plants, two of each of the following varieties: Duke and Reka (hardy, early season, firm fruit); Chandler (mid-late season, long ripening season, large fruit); Bluecrop (vigorous, hardy, mid-season). I want to keep track of which plants are which and have made a map (which I can’t seem to see on my iPad….hmmm).

One of my main projects for this year is to reclaim most of my front yard. Until a few years ago, the entire area was taken up by an enormous fir. After the tree was removed, we tried planting the area with daffodils and other bulbs (year one) and then a wildflower seed blend (year 2). Things just went downhill from there and last year we ended up with a wild mix of day lilies, foxgloves, something that looks similar to fireweed, those tall blue blue-bell things, and lots of grass. LOTS OF GRASS. Sure, it sounds fabulous and I admit that I did make a few nice bouquets but mostly it was unmanageable. All winter I’ve laid flattened cardboard boxes over the dirt and covered everything with a layer of compost/dirt, with the intention of suffocating the weeds. I am  about 80% done – I still need a few more boxes and few more bags of dirt. The original plan was to wait a year and plant blueberries, but now that I’ve planted blueberries in the back, I need to think of something else for the front.

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The front yard in June 2018

Finally, the biggest change to the back garden has been the addition of a barrel sauna. Inspired by a fabulous sauna we had last September at a friend’s cabin, I did some research (not enough, it turned out) and our sauna kit arrived just before Christmas. The sauna is now up an working and is truly excellent, but it required much more effort (time, energy, $$$) than anticipated. If anyone is thinking of buying one of these kits, please call me first.

Below is a photo of eight tiny blueberry plants with the sauna in the background. The tall sticks are to hopefully prevent anyone from stepping on the tiny blueberry plants.

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Game on: Garden season 2019 starts early

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The short version:

It’s a mild winter here in Vancouver and I’ve already planted my fava beans. I’ve given up valuable gardening space for a passion project.

The long version:

The mild winter and the recent sunshine pulled me outdoors all week. I’ve pruned the boxwoods and lavender, cut back the dead foliage from the lily, crocosmia and black-eyed susans, and have cleaned up all the piles of rotting leaves and needles that have accumulated in unexpected corners.

The mild winter meant that we’ve enjoyed kale and mustard greens including arugula, pac choi and mizuna. With the recent sunshine, the chives and parsley are starting to grow and the first garlic sprouts are peeking out. Two weeks ago I replanted last summer’s surviving golden Swiss Chard: it was growing in a very dense row so I dug up and pulled apart the plants and spaced them more evenly. Already popular with the slugs/birds/rodents, the green foliage is being eaten as fast as it unfolds, leaving behind spiky yellow stems.

Today I planted an entire bed with fava beans. These seeds I saved from last year, and were the ones left on the plants for too long and dried naturally in the pods. This is an early planting record as I usually don’t plant these until late February. According to West Coast Seeds you can plant fava beans in October but in my experience the October favas never survive the winter. Hopefully the warmish weather will continue and they will all germinate.

I am starting to plan everything else that I want to grow. Space is limited this spring as two beds are already completely full, but the favas and garlic will be finished by summer in time to plant fall/winter crops. The other two beds will  somehow magically accommodate peas-potatoes-cucumber-zucchini-squash-pumpkins-nasturtiums-calendula-lettuce-lettuce-lettuce-arugula; I might have to go vertical. Planting space is down this year because I traded away my usual fava territory to Jan (complex real estate negotiations) in exchange for the space where he used to grow his tomatoes.

Next blog: The passion project.

 

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These are the colors (and flavours) of my life….

Before my first trip to Spain in 2010, I bought a Spanish language CD to help my sons and I to learn a bit of the language. The CD consisted of minimal dialogue (similar to a recitative) and a series of songs incorporating Spanish words and phrases, often sang as a English/Spanish duet. The CD was ultimately not very useful for us, as it was mostly about meeting and hooking up with potential new romantic partners. Some of those songs are now stuck in my head forever, and once in awhile one shakes loose. This was one of those weeks, and the words and melody of “Estos son los colores de mi vida” (“Theeeeese are the colours of my liiiiiiiife“) have been on repeat since last Tuesday.

On that day I attended the BC Cancer Foundation lunch and was seated next to another guest who had just designed and landscaped a new garden. She described her garden design MO as: “three types of greens, you get to pick two”. Apparently there are three key shades of green – yellow green, red green and blue green – and you need to limit your plant choices to two of those shades in one area to achieve harmony.

HUH. (Long pause while I stopped to consider that).

I’ve been squinting at plants ever since and think she is right. I pulled out my dad’s color wheel (see above, front and back) which shows examples of yellow green, blue green and red green. Our front garden has lots of red green – the  Japanese maples, the cornus kousa and the cherry tree, while the back has mostly yellow green grasses and shrubs as well as blue green spruces and coniferous shrubs. I am seeing green in a whole new way.

But that is not all….

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Maybe Tuesday, September 18, 2018 qualifies as a life changing day, in subtle ways. Later that same evening I attended my first level 1 Sommelier class. The wheel shown above was part of the course materials. Sweet Jesus! Why do they have to make the print so small? Risa and I were squinting hard to identify the appropriate descriptors for each of the wines we tasted. If that first class is any indication, my sommelier fantasies are in jeopardy. Not only was I unable to taste some of the wine flavours that others readily identified, but one of the wines actually tasted like NOTHING. NOOOOOO-THING. Yikes. And every time I have picked up the wheel this week to study (aka: drink more wine), that stupid “Estos son los colores de mi vida” song has popped into my head. ……

So, this is a pretty accurate summary of what self-employment can be like when things are quiet: social lunches, drinking wine, humming along to songs in my head, cooking lots, working in the garden and squinting at plants, color wheels and wine glasses. I am enjoying this September break because in another week and a half the fall projects all start.

Happy Fall everyone!

 

 

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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.

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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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