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!

#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)

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.

In-Season Recipe (late August): Tofu-Stuffed Baked Zucchini

Tofu-stuffed zucchini, served with curried sweet potato. Yuuuum!

Tofu-stuffed zucchini, served with curried sweet potato. Yuuuum!

Zucchini are one of my favourite veggies.  Think about it… it’s delicious grilled on the BBQ, in sauces, in curries, in antipasto, sliced cold with hummus, even baked in loaf form alongside chocolate and walnuts! It’s also packed with all sorts of good vitamins and minerals and high in fibre. You really can’t go wrong.

Here is a delicious and fun way to combine your zucchini with tofu for a protein packed dish:

You will need…

From the garden:

These zucchinis complements of Grandpa Frank's garden!

These zucchinis complements of Grandpa Frank’s garden!

  • A couple nice big zucchinis
  • Few cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Fresh basil, oregano and thyme, chopped
  • Two or three tomatoes

From the grocer:

  • 1/2 block of tofu, crumbled
  • Handful of olives (Kalamata or Greek colossal work well), coarsely chopped
  • About 1/2 cup bread crumbs (Gluten free? Try almond flour instead!)
  • About 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Dairy-free? Try nutritional yeast instead!)
  • Dash salt
  • Tablespoon cracked peppers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. To make filling: Warm olive oil in a cast iron skillet on low-med heat. Add garlic and saute til soft. Add tofu, olives, tomatoes and herbs and allow to cook down til it’s nice and saucy. Dash of salt if needed.
  3. While filling is simmering, cut zucchinis in halve, lengthwise. Scoop out the seedy part of in the middle like you’re hollowing out a canoe. (Tip: Freeze the scooped-out zucchini to make zucchini bread later!) Lay out zucchinis on a casserole dish or baking sheet.
  4. Scoop out the filling into each zucchini.

    Stuffed!

    Stuffed!

  5. In a dish, combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and cracked pepper.
  6. Spoon a generous layer of the bread crumb mixture on top of each zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil.
  7. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the zucchinis are soft but not mushy.
  8. Give each zucchini a squirt of fresh lemon juice right before serving.

    Right out da oven.

    Right out da oven.

Bon appetit!

 

Bolting herbs? Dry ‘em or freeze ‘em!

I don’t know about you, but a number of our herbs are bolting out back. What to do with them? Well, depending on the herb, I would suggest either drying or freezing them. That way you can enjoy your garden herbs long after growing season is past.

Taking a little time to dry and/or freeze your herbs means having garden goodness long after growing season is over.

Taking a little time to dry and/or freeze your herbs means having garden goodness long after growing season is over.

Basil, dill, oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme dry well. To dry basil, oregano and mint, remove the leaves from the stalk, rinse in a salad spinner and then spread out on a drying tray or kitchen towel in a warm, dry place. Let them dry for about a week, or until the leaves have gone crispy. Transfer to jars or freezer bags. Make sure you label because dried up leaves can all start to look the same…

Bolting Thai and Italian basil.

Bolting Thai and Italian basil.

Drying basil leaves.

Drying basil leaves.

To dry dill, rosemary and thyme, cut the roots off the stalks and hang plants upside down in small bunches in a warm, dry place. Once dried you can carefully remove the small leaves and put into jars, or if you’re lazy you can just put the whole thing – stalk and all – into a freezer bag and crumble off the leaves as you need for cooking. This tends to be my approach, as you can see from the above photo.

Parley freezes well in a sealed freezer bag. If you want to wash it first, remove as much excess water as possible before freezing. I also freeze hot peppers, since we don’t use them up fast enough while they are fresh. In the case of both parsley and peppers, you can just trim off what you need for cooking on an as-needed basis.

I don’t particularly like dried or frozen cilantro. In the case of cilantro, we prefer to let it go to seed and harvest the coriander seeds instead for cooking. However, some people totally do dry it.

Helpful herb fact: Thyme and oregano are perennial! Don’t pull up the plant by the roots when you’re harvesting for drying… they’ll come back next spring!

In-Season Recipe (mid-August): Beans on the Barbie

This is one of the easiest and most practical ways to cook your garden wax beans, not to mention one of the most delicious.  As with my BBQed kale chips, when it’s too hot to turn on the oven I like to cook my beans on the barbie. This recipe works well with pretty much any bean you can grow. If you’ve got multiple varieties of beans, toss ‘em all in together. We’ve also been getting a lot of wicked veggies from “Grandpa” Frank, including a ton of yellow wax beans (included in photo below.)

Colourful bean mix, dill and coconut oil. Simple is best.

Colourful bean mix, dill and coconut oil. Simple is best.

We eat primarily vegetarian, so beans are an excellent home-grown source of protein for us. Here are the wax bean varieties we are growing this year and the source of the seeds:

- Kentucky Wonder yellow pole bean (Ferme Tourne-Sol)

- Rattlesnake green/purple pole bean (2012 seed harvest but originally from Ferme Tourne-Sol)

- Green bush bean (Seeds picked up while traveling in Bangladesh and planted for the first time in 2012 which have done very well in our backyard.)

- Purple pole bean (Seedlings traded from a friend earlier this year… excellent addition to our bean mix!)

We love our cast iron skillets (the original non-stick pan…) They can totally be used on the barbeque and are WAY more convenient than wrapping up your veggies in tin foil. (We do our roasted root veg this way too.) Not to mention that cooking with teflon and aluminum are not safe for you! Seriously… do some reading about it, and then go invest in a cast iron pan (or 2) if you don’t already have one. But I digress…

Here’s the recipe:

Preheat barbeque to medium heat. (If you’re cooking a number of different items on the barbeque, budget about 20 minutes for the beans.)

In a cast iron skillet, combine:

  • Mix of rinsed garden beans
  • Generous handful of fresh or dried garden dill
  • Generous tablespoon of coconut oil
  • A few cloves of coarsely chopped garlic
  • Pinch of sea salt

Cover the skillet with a cast iron of stainless steel lid (or foil if necessary) and put on the barbeque.

Toss beans every few minutes for even cooking. Beans are ready when they are soft and some are nicely browned.

Beany tips:

- The more you pick, the more they produce! Keep picking your beans regularly to keep them producing longer!

- If you have an over-abundance of beans, you can freeze them.

Say “Seeeeeeeds!”… Time for Seed Harvesting

Call it the “after thought harvest”… seed harvesting is not something that you might do or even think about if you are a newbie (or even seasoned) veggie grower. But if you don’t like forking out $3.50 a pack for organic seeds, then I suggest you give some thought, and a tiny bit of energy, to harvesting some seeds from your own crops to plant next year.

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Of course each crop variety has a slightly different method for harvesting its seeds. In the case of “fruiting” crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, the seeds are inside of the fruit, so must therefore be harvested from a picked fruit. I will leave those to a separate blog post later in the season… for now, let’s consider legumes and leafy crops, since that is what we’re harvesting right now.

Legumes (i.e. beans and peas) are the absolute simplest seed to harvest. Just allow a few of your pea and bean pods to fully mature and dry out on the vine. Harvest only after the pods are fully dried. A word of caution – don’t allow too many beans to fully mature off the bat or you will reduce the output of your plants. In the case of beans and peas, the more you pick, the more they produce! So wait until the plants are getting close to the end of their productive life before allowing pods to fully mature for seed harvesting. We have had excellent results with all peas and beans to date!

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

In the case of leafy crops the concept is simple – allow some of each crop to bolt, flower and go to seed, then allow the seeds to dry on the live plant before harvesting. I really cannot stress enough the importance of allowing the seed pods to dry fully on the plant before harvesting. If harvested too soon, the seeds may not be viable, or they may be difficult to store without rotting. This takes patience! For the last month we have been annoyingly stepping around a tangle of bolted cilantro to water our swiss chard, biding our time til the seeds are fully dried and ready to harvest… all for the love of sweet, sweet crushed coriander seed. (In the case of coriander, we save a few seeds for planting, but we use it religiously in all sorts of cooking.)

Cilantro (coriander) seeds... almost dry!

Cilantro (coriander) seeds… almost dry!

Over the last few years, we have had really good results harvesting seeds from the following leafy crops: all lettuces (… and did you know that lettuce plants have beautiful yellow flowers when they bolt?); spinach; arugula; dill; cilantro; and basil.

Once you have harvested the dried seed pods from the plant, release the individual seeds by rolling the pods between your thumb and fingers, gently crushing the dried pod. Place your harvested seeds in paper envelopes; I would advice against plastic since trapped humidity can make your seeds rot. Label, and store for next year in a cool, dry place. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, make yourself a cute seed box to keep them all in …

Say Seeeeds!

Say Seeeeds!

FYI, to date, we have not had any success harvesting seeds from kale, although recently I started chatting with a man on an airplane who turned out to run a small cooperative farm. He said that you can totally harvest kale seeds, and that they are good for eating as a nutrient-packed sprouted seed! We are definitely going to try this in the fall… will keep you posted on that one.

 

In-Season Recipe (early August): Barbequed Kale Chips

I can’t believe I haven’t posted this recipe earlier, because I literally make kale chips at least 3 times a week. We can’t get enough of it here. Even our 10-month old daughter loves crispy kale chips!

Sophia loves kale chips!

Sophia loves kale chips!

We have three varieties of kale in the garden this year:

The Vates Blue Curled has proven to be a wonderful, robust variety for cooking with. The curly leaves hold their integrity much better than the other two when cooking. The Red Russian has produced very well; with its flat broad-leaves, this one is nice to harvest young to add to salads.

Early August kale harvest

Early August kale harvest

Kale is so wonderfully good for you – high in B vitamins, antioxidants, iron, calcium, fibre, omega 3s. just to name a few of the many benefits of eating this “queen of greens.” It is delicious sauteed with a little garlic to go with your morning eggs, blended into smoothies, cooked into omelettes, chopped into salads and baked with other veggies. But in my opinion, there is no better way to eat it than to turn it onto crispy kale chips… on the BBQ!

Yep, you read correctly, I make these on the que. In the hot summer months, who wants to turn their oven on?

Here’s what you need to make the basic version of BBQed kale chips:

  • A few nice mitt-fulls of fresh kale (curled variety preferred)
  • A couple table spoons Olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • A few tablespoons of Nutritional yeast.(Nutritional yeast is high in B vitamins, protein and iron! It is low sodium and gives things a nutty delicious flavour… amazing addition to salad dressings! I buy it at Herb and Spice.)
  • Handful of pine nuts, if desired.

    Nutritional yeast adds a yummy nutty flavour and is high in B vitamins.

    Nutritional yeast adds a yummy nutty flavour and is high in B vitamins.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Wash your kale if necessary (and dry thoroughly!) and tear into large pieces (I usually just tear leaves in 2 or 3)
  • Toss kale in olive oil, coating well.
  • Toss in the nutritional yeast and sea salt (and pine nuts, if using.) I never measure this stuff… it’s all about experimenting with quantities o see what you like.
  • Spread out the kale on a baking sheet.
  • Place on a BBQ on low heat.
  • “Bake” 5-10 minutes, turning frequently! Kale will burn VERY quickly if you don’t keep a close eye on it.
  • Chips are done when kale is crispy but not dried out or overly browned.
  • Serve immediately, as an appetizer or snack. I find these are perfect to serve as a nibbly when you’re barbequing other things.

    kale on BBQ

    Kale on the barbie.

Try experimenting with all sorts of seasonings. Another blend we really like uses sesame oil, sesame seeds and a dash of tamari… go nuts! There really is no wrong way to do kale chips. Drooool.

Barbequed kale chips with pine nuts.

Barbequed kale chips with pine nuts.

 

 

In-Season Recipe (early August): Simple “Sushi Style” Edamame

Edamame 2

Edamame beans with sea salt and sesame oil. Simply delicious.

According to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is often the right one. That is certainly true in the case of cooking edamame (aka soy) beans! They are, in my humble opinion, best eaten on their own, prepared in the simple style that is typically served as an appetizer in Japanese restaurants.

Edamame on bush

That’s a lotta beans for one little bush!

This is our first year growing edamame, but it won’t be our last. We planted 6, spaced amongst the peppers. Each sturdy plant has produced a hefty harvest, and no sign of disease or insect damage whatsoever. Edamame freeze really well, so our plan is to freeze whatever we don’t eat this season… although based on how quickly these beans were gobbled up tonight, I’m not sure there will be any left to freeze!

Here’s how I prepared them:

  • Place beans, in pods, in a pot of boiling, salted water.
  • Cook about 5 minutes.
  • Drain water and toss beans in dollop of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
  • Serve immediately. (Don’t forget the side bowl to discard the pods.)

So good, we’ll probably eat them again tomorrow night. Enjoy!