Love your Mother (Earth)

It’s April 22 – Earth Day. Think of it as the universal Mother’s Day.

Time to pause and think about our individual impact on the planet, and how we can introduce changes into our daily routine to make the Earth a better place, today and for future generations.

Here are a few simple things you can start work into your daily routine:

- Bike, walk, bus or carpool to work, or telecommute. (How many single-occupancy vehicles are out there in rush hour?!)

Less Gas, More Ass! – cartoon by ohwell
Source: www.wall2wallmtl.com

- Rethink your drink. Bring your own travel mug for coffee and bottle for water. Don’t buy bottled water! (especially in Canada, where our tap water is generally potable.)

- Be waste-conscious. Remember the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? We were taught that back in kindergarten, but it’s good to have a refresher… Reduce comes first! Try to avoid products that are heavily packaged. Buy a head of lettuce instead a bag of lettuce. Go bulk where possible. Reuse comes second. Bring your lunch in a yogurt container or peanut butter jar. Save wrapping paper. Recycle is the last of the three R’s. That means sorting your waste properly into recyclables, compostables and trash. Use those green-bins people!

- Sharing and repairing are the new buying! Before you buy 0r dispose of something – Pass it on. Fix it. Give it to a friend. Re-gift. Hand-me-down. Thrift it. Re-purpose it. Borrow it. Free-Cycle it. Kijiji it. We need a serious attitude check when it comes to the amount of consumer goods we purchase and throw away. Giving our household goods, clothes, tools, toys and electronics a new life slows down the rate at which we need to produce consumer goods, which is good thing for Mother Earth, not to mention our wallets!

- Where possible, choose Local. Food and products that have been transported around the globe may sometimes come at a slightly lower price in the grocery store, but they come at a much higher environmental price than locally-produced foods and goods.

- Organic is not a fad. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that chemicals that kill insects and plants aren’t good for us. Neither are they good or for our ground water, soil, animals, and important insects, such as bees. Wherever possible, choose organic food options… or hey, why not grow your own!! There are a lot of tips here in this very blog to help get you started.

- Be water-conservative. Check out this past post on simple ways to reduce your tap-water usage at home!

- TLC. When I was a kid, before leaving the house, we were required to do the “TLC” checklist: 1. turn down the Temperature; 2. turn off the Lights; 3. put out the Cat. The Cat aside, I think it’s all good practice for us to turn down the thermostat a few degrees and make sure all of the lights in the house are off before we head out for the day.

Happy Earth Day, y’all. And remember – always treat your Mother with respect.

Start ‘em early!

… I’m talking about both your crops as well as your kids!

It’s mid-April, and that means the whole family has been pitching in to get the yard cleaned up and the garden beds planted with early season veggies. These include peas, spinach, kale, swiss chard, radishes, beets and lettuce. The garlic, planted last fall, is just starting to sprout, with new, lovely green shoots popping up overnight.

At age two and a half, Sophia already loves helping out in the garden, especially when water is involved. Here she is tending to the garlic patch. Love this kid!

 

50 Shade of Green

Reason #6: 50 Shades of PESTICIDE-FREE Leafy Greens

Leafy greens – kale, spinach, swiss chard, lettuces and arugula – are one of the best things to grow in any garden. For one thing, most green varieties are frost hardy and so are one of the first crops you can plant. They are also fast growing, so are one of the first crops to harvest in the spring. The root systems of greens are fairly small and shallow, so you can plant a lot of it in a small space; the Square Foot Gardener recommends 4 lettuce, chard or kale plants per square foot. Finally, with succession planting, because they are frost hardy, greens are one of the latest crops going in the garden. Kale and swiss chard are often still green when the snow starts to fly.

Lettuce, kale, arugula, chard, spinach... It's so easy being green.

Lettuce, kale, arugula, chard, spinach… It’s so easy being green.

Anyone who is reading this blog most likely does not need to be told how amazingly healthy leafy greens are, especially the dark varieties such as kale, chard, spinach and collards. However, buying non-organic greens from the Superstore could be doing us more harm than good. Spinach, lettuce, kale and other leafy greens are included in the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen – a list of produce containing the highest levels of pesticide residue. Seriously scary stuff.

Sure you can buy organic greens at markets like Herb and Spice. But at $3.99/bunch for organic kale, I’d say it’s worthwhile to see what you can grow yourself!

#5: They’re baaaaack! In-season garlic scape hummus recipe

Day 5 of 30 days of blog posts about why we love growing our own food…

Reasons #5: Scape season is back! … and this delicious in-season garlic scape hummus.

Garlic scape hummus. The perfect afternoon nibble.

Garlic scape hummus. The perfect afternoon nibble.

Garlic scape season is something I didn’t pay much attention to before I started growing my own garlic. It was kind of like fiddlehead season – one of those fleeting things that you often failed to notice until it had almost already passed, scanning over a near-empty box of pathetic, wilted ferns in the market with a sigh of “oh well, maybe next year.”

Garlic scape, ripe for the picking.

Garlic scapes are ready to harvest when they curl.

Now that we grow garlic in our own garden, scape season is something that we can’t help but anticipate. For a few sweet weeks of the year, scapes take the place of garlic cloves in almost all of our cooking. A few of my favourite recipes use raw scapes, like my delicious Garlic Scape, Basil & Kale Pesto for example (check out the post and recipe from last year.) They’re also delicious in BBQ marinades and tossed in roasted veg.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried my hummus, but it is kind of a big deal. It features as my go-to appetizer and is a frequently requested potluck contribution. I love the opportunity to make hummus with scapes, because their flavour is robust but not overpowering the way garlic cloves can be. The aroma doesn’t linger on your breath for days afterward either.

In-Season Garlic Scape Hummus

Ingredients (makes about 2 cups):

  • 4 garlic scapes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 can of chick peas, thoroughly rinsed (By all means, you can soak and cook your own chick peas, but these days I allow myself the little convenience of canned chick peas.)
  • Juice and pulp of 1 lemon (or more, depending on how zippy you like it)
  • About 1/4 cup olive oil (add slowly and adjust to desired consistency)
  • 1 teaspoon of tahini OR 1 teaspoon of peanut butter OR 1 dash of sesame oil (sometimes tahini is overpowering… I advise using sparingly.)
  • About 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • If you’ve got a jar of spicy eggplant in the fridge, I love adding a splash of the spicy oil! If not, a pinch of dried chilis, finely chopped, adds a nice little kick.
  • Pinch of salt, to taste.
  • Finely chopped fresh cilantro as garnish, if desired.

Directions:

  • Combine ingredients in your food processor.
  • Blend for at least 1 minute or until smooth(ish).
  • Taste and adjust by adding additional oil, lemon juice, cumin or salt.
  • Serve immediately, with veggies, pita or whatever takes your fancy. Goes very well with fresh garden radishes and snap peas!
  • Cover and chill what you don’t eat right away. Keeps about 2 days in the fridge.

Enjoy!

#4: The Pattern of All Patience…

… so my dad and Will Shakespeare would say.

Gardening takes time. It teaches patience and acceptance that oftentimes things don’t work out quite as you had planned. “Why is my spinach crop so mediocre?! Aaaargh!” And then there’s all the waiting and waiting for those slow growers, like pumpkins, that take several months from seed to harvest.

Tonight, I was determined to write a blog post about my delicious garlic scape hummus. But my daughter is running a fever, so that idea has been kiboshed.

Guess it’s just going to have to wait til tomorrow. For now, I will sign off Day 4 of 30 by saying that the #4 Reason I love growing my own food is that it has taught me that yes, I can wait.

P.S. I wonder what my 23-year old self would do if I told her that in ten years from now, she would be blogging about hummus on a Friday night. Probably would have skipped the hummus on my 2am shawarma from then on.

#3: I’m Siiiinging in the Rain…

Today is Day 3 of 30 days of blog posts about why we love growing our own food.

Reason #3: It make you love (is worship too strong a word?) the rain.

Water is Life, people.

It covers over 70% of the planet and comprises 65% of our body mass. (Yes I looked those stats up just now.) It is the world’s most precious yet most often abused natural resource. It is easy to take for granted that we – urban Canadians – have unlimited access to free-flowing, clean water that is conveniently pumped (in both hot and cold form) into our homes.

Being a gardener heightens your awareness about the importance of the natural rainfall. True, you can usually water your garden with a sprinkler or hose in time of drought, but no gardener will tell you that they prefer tap water over the real deal. For one thing, rain brings your garden precious nitrogen from the sky and is not full of chemicals like chlorine or fluoride. For another, relying as much as possible on rain to water your garden, whether falling directly from the sky or collected in a barrel, is part of what gardening is all about – being connected to the earth.

Gardeners pay attention to the rain. During those hottest weeks of July in Ottawa when the humidex hits 40C, you will see the gardeners nail-biting at the “Chance of Thundershowers” forecasts and scanning the horizon for building cumulonimbus clouds. “Will it, or won’t it?” When colleagues complain of the weekend weather forecast being a wet one, I am secretly doing a mental rain dance (looks something like Elaine from Seinfeld) and thinking “ooh wee, them rain barrels gone be fulled riiiiiight up!”

I love the water. I love gently pushing a canoe through water with a paddle. I love playing in the waves and pretending I can surf. I love it when it transforms into fluff in mid-air and then blankets the earth so I can slide down mountains on it. I even love getting drenched in a downpour on those cycle commutes home from work when I have nothing waterproof to wear.

Once a man doing Tarot on the street asked me to pull a card from a fanned-out deck in his hand. I pulled this one…

The Two of Cups - "The Lord of Love" Image from http://shadesofmidnight.wordpress.com

The Two of Cups – “The Lord of Love”
Image from http://shadesofmidnight.wordpress.com

Must be the Piscean blood?

We could all do to conserve and respect our water a little more, or maybe in some cases a lot more. Food for thought. Water for food.

Check out this previous blog post on 3 Super Simple Ways to Use Less Tap Water.

 

#2: Babies picking stawberries

Today is Day 2 of 30 days of blog posts about why we love growing our own vegetables (and fruit!)

Reason #2: Picking and eating our own strawberries

Strawberries are one of Nature’s most delectable little creations. I would argue that there is no more perfect a moment than biting into juicy, sun-ripened, non-GMO strawberry that you have just plucked from the plant… except perhaps sharing a bowlful of juicy, sun-ripened, non-GMO strawberries that this adorable little toddler has just pluck from the plant! At 20 months of age, our daughter Sophia is an expert strawberry pick-and-eater, and is getting very good at (albeit sometimes begrudgingly) sharing her haul with mummy, daddy and even granny.

It doesn't get any sweeter than this!

It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

Now, I don’t like to brag, but have we got a motha f*ckin’ bumper crop of strawberries this year! You really do want to get invited to dessert at our place.

It has taken two seasons for the strawberry plants to get really well-established in the garden. They spent last year reproducing themselves like crazy; strawberries do this by putting out “runners” that then take root and establish a new plant. I was a bit skeptical about how much fruit our plants would ever produce, given they are located in a spot in the backyard that gets only partial sun, but they really don’t seem to mind. In turn, we don’t mind that the new growth is slowly creeping out of the garden bed and onto the lawn. We are just going to expand the bed to accommodate their search for more sunshine. This spring we spent a lot of time thinning out the plants, moving some of them around and giving some away to friends and family. Then we carefully turned some peat moss and compost into the strawberry patch. They seem to have loved the pampering!

Most importantly, this year we have been very careful to keep our stawbs under cage as soon as we saw the first flower. Without a moment’s hesitation, squirrels will gobble up your entire crop in one sitting… and those little bastards don’t even wait for the fruit to ripen! Last year we made the mistake of waiting until it was too late to protect the plants. This year we are hyper-diligent about keeping the strawberry patch secure. Borrowing some great design ideas from our friend Mark (of PLOTNONPLOT), Ben constructed an 8′x4′ cage to cover the patch, consisting of a wooden support frame and three arcs of salvaged plastic tubing, covered in chicken wire. (You can see it, somewhat out-of-focus, in the photo of Sophia.)

We have two varieties of strawberries growing in the garden. One of them, I am pleased to say (with a bit of a lump in my throat) I dug out of my Mum’s garden back home in Rossland B.C. a few years ago. I’m very happy to be sharing this taste of the Kootenays with little Sophia, who is arguably even sweeter than the strawberries. (awwwwww)

Gardening… it’s not for wimps!

… and 29 other reasons why I think everyone should grow their own vegetables!

I have been pathetically and conspicuously absent from this blog for the past several months, so I have decided that I will do one post every day for the next month, each describing a different aspect of vegetable gardening that I love and that I hope will inspire others to get their hands dirty. These will be posted in no particular order or hierarchy of preference; simply at random depending on what inspires me in the garden on that particular day.

So, here we go…

Reason #1: Gardening is excellent for your health and well-being!

Gardening - it's not for wimps.

Gardening – it’s not for wimps.

Tired of doing bicep curls in front of the gym mirror when it’s a gorgeous sunny day outside? Feel like you’ll scream if you have to duck one more time to avoid photo-bombing that gym bunny’s post-workout #selfie? I’ve got a solution for you! It’s called gardening, and it is an incredible workout for your arms, back, shoulders, legs and core, particularly if you forget the leaf-blower and other gas-guzzling tools and use a little elbow grease instead.

Gardening has also been shown to produce a number of other mental and physical health benefits including lowered blood pressure, increased brain activity and lowered stress levels. Raking leaves, pushing a manual lawnmower, turning compost, hauling wheel-barrows of soil, crouching, bending and reaching to pull weeds, lifting bags of peat moss or manure, moving rocks, building raised bed and pruning trees – incorporate some of these into your summer routine and I promise your body and mind will thank you.

You can read more about gardening and health here.

Seedy Saturday! Getting into “garden mode”

Seedy Saturday is happening in Ottawa this Saturday, March 2nd at the Ron Kolbus community centre at Britannia Park. Seed exchange table, organic local farms selling heirloom seeds, free workshops and all kinds of goodies. An organic gardener’s MUST DO to get ready for planting season… check it!

* * *

So I am a bit sheepish to admit this is my first blog post in nearly 6 months, basically since returning back to work. Call me lazy, but I find there is something about working a full-time job and raising a toddler that kind of eats into your “Oh, I think I’ll write a blog post about composting or garbage-picking” time.

Aaaanyway.

Here, I am, back at the computer, after all this time, motivated by the rapidly approaching spring and the need to start planning for indoor and outdoor planting. I know it’s hard to imagine that planting season is almost upon us when we have had such a hardcore winter that we’ve come to call -12 a “mild enough” day. But believe me people, it is almost here. Last year we planted our indoor seeds on March 10th… that’s in, like, only 2 weeks!

Ok, stop panicking (note to self: stop panicking.) Two weeks is a perfectly adequate length of time to plan a garden, provided you know where to start. Shameless self promotion here: If you DON’T know where to start and you’re thinking, after getting a few paragraphs into this post, that maybe you would like to grow some veggies this year, please shoot me an email and I’d love to come by and help out.

It definitely helps to have some experience testing out different seeds when you’re planning out what to grow. I find that with each passing year of experimenting with growing vegetables, I’ve gained a better understanding of what I like growing, how much is not enough/too much to plant, how often to plant, how much water things do/don’t like, what sorts of pests to watch for and how early and how often I can plant something, etc. etc.

I find it really helpful to sit down and make a plan, starting by thinking about what we loved from the last year(s), what we could have done without and what new veggie we’d like to try that we’ve never grown before.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Last year, we introduced Jerusalem artichoke – a definite winner, and I must learn to make a good roasted artichoke soup with them this year. We also planted our two peach and one nectarine trees, which produced a small but outrageously delicious crop of insect-free fruit. We also sprouted a sweet potato indoors and planted the slips… no spuds, but we’ll try again earlier this year! And of course there was the garlic. I still can’t believe it was the first year ever growing our own. We gifted several garlic braids to friends and family and ate garlic like we were living in a Twilight novel. We are definitely growing a lot more of that this year!

The big new thing for me this year is going to be flowers. Namely, medicinal or edible flowers. For starter, to keep it simple, maybe flax, echinacea, camomile, lavender, bee balm, nasturtiums and sunflowers. Other suggestions? I would also really love to get some raspberry and ground cherry bushes going. An old neighbour of mine grew ground cherries here in Ottawa, and they were off-the-hook. Ben and I tried planting some from seed here last year and failed miserably. This year I’ll do a bit more research.

See you at Seedy Saturday!

 

Powdery Mildew on Pumpkins, Cucumbers and Squash

We returned home from a lovely long weekend at a friend’s cottage to discover this…

Powdery mildew attack!

Powdery mildew attack!

… our lovely pumpkin “octopus” – the sprawl of pumpkin leaves which has been creeping across the lawn, had been almost entirely consumed by powdery mildew, in a span of only 3 days! This nasty, fast-spreading fungus is characterized by fuzzy white patches on the leaves of your pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber and squash plants. (Although it can affect other plants too!) Your plants are at particular risk during periods of high humidity and damp weather. The spores growing on the leaves eventually block out the leaves’ ability to photosynthesize, wreaking havoc on the plants’ productivity. In other words, it’s bad news!

How to get rid of this stuff?! For starters, I immediately removed all of the infected leaves (my heart breaking a little with each snip of the scissors.) I put all of the cut leaves in the green bin, NOT in the compost, since I don’t want it to spread any further than it already has.

Pile of mildewed leaves next to ravaged pumpkin plants. Sniff, sniff...

Pile of mildewed leaves next to ravaged pumpkin plants. Sniff, sniff…

Next I did a thorough internet search and it seems that there are two possible organic “kitchen remedies”. The first is a mixture of baking soda, soap and water. I tried this last year when our squash were infected with a less severe but equally annoying bout of mildew. It didn’t seem to work well.

This time I am going to try a milk solution on the leaves of the pumpkins and zucchini, as well as the cucumbers because there are definitely a few leaves with early signs of mildew. (Prevention is the best medicine.) Growveg.com suggests that a mixture of 3 parts milk to 7 parts water is a good ratio to try. Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Early signs of powdery mildew on cucumber leaves.

Early signs of powdery mildew on cucumber leaves.