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!

 

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!

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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!

 

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!

 

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.

In-Season Recipe (early July): Garlic Scape, Basil & Kale Pesto

Fresh batch of scape, kale and basil pesto. Does it get any more delicious?

Fresh batch of scape, kale and basil pesto. Does it get any more delicious?

It’s scape season! Well, the tail end of it anyway. We have been loving using garlic scapes in place of garlic bulb for the last few weeks. FYI, for those who don’t know, the scape is a long curly stalk at the end of which grows the garlic flower. Scapes are harvested before the garlic actually flowers to encourage the garlic to direct energy to the bulb. And they are delicious. We’ve been putting them in curries, omelettes, stir fries, roasted veg, salads, marinades… you name it!

Curly garlic scapes, ripe for the picking (early July.)

Curly garlic scapes, ripe for the picking (early July.)

But the pièce de résistance has got to be the pesto. We harvested all of the remaining scapes in one big bundle to be sacrificed to the food processor gods to become a few precious jars of garlicy, basily, nutty goodness.

Pesto is a cinch to make. Here’s how I did this batch. (Note that all measurements are approximate… it’s all up to your tastes.)

Put the following in a food processor and blend until smooth:

- 2 cups garlic scapes (chop off the little seed pods first)

- 1 cup chopped kale

- 1 cup chopped basil

- 1 cup lightly roasted pine nuts

- 1 cup lightly roasted walnuts

- 1.5 -2 cups grated parmesan cheese

- 1 generous cup olive oil

- juice of at least 1 lemon (more if you love a lemon zing in your pesto)

- Lots of cracked pepper and dash of sea salt, to taste

This recipe yielded about 6 small jars, but it was so good that Benny insisted on snacking on it immediately with some tortilla chips (as pictured above.) You will too. Freeze what you aren’t using immediately. These small jars make awesome leave-behind gifts if you’re going to a friend’s for dinner or visiting a friend with a new baby.

While pesto is typically made with basil, I used a combination of garden kale and basil in this batch and it worked out famously. We are growing three varieties of kale:

Red Russian and Blue Curled kale (early July.)

Red Russian and Blue Curled kale (early July.)

We have four varieties of basil growing this year, although I must admit that I did buy some basil transplants at the Parkdale Market to supplement the rather meager number of basil seedlings that germinated indoors (from seeds harvested in 2012.) I think we have a Thai, an Italian, a purple leaf and a Greek basil.

Why yes, I do have garlic breath. Thanks for noticing!

The first thing to come poking through the soil as soon as it thawed this spring was… garlic! This is our first time growing garlic, which is strange because it is one of our kitchen staples. Perhaps it’s because garlic is one of those crops that has to be planted a full two seasons ahead of its harvest; planting is done in mid-autumn (October) for a late-spring harvest (June).

Garlic shoots

Garlic shoots peeking through the soil, early spring.

Ben’s dad, an avid gardener with a kick-ass property south of Ottawa, generously gifted us 12 bulbs of his home-grown garlic for planting – a 4-clove hardneck variety. At four cloves per bulb, we planted a total of 48 garlic cloves, spaced about 4 inches apart, taking up about 14 square feet of garden. After planting we covered the soil with a layer of leaf debris to provide some insulation to the cloves for their long winter sleep.

We chose one of the sunniest garden plots for the garlic since it is the first to thaw in the spring, encouraging the garlic to sprout as early as possible. Since garlic is an early-season crop, this primo sun real estate can be taken over by later-season crops, such as tomatoes, as the garlic is harvested and thinned. In fact, “companion planting” tomatoes with garlic can help to deter pests that may be attracted to your tomato plants.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

We have a seriously obnoxious squirrel population in our backyard, and not yet knowing their tastes for garlic, we opted to protect our dear little bulbs with a couple of simple chicken wire cage boxes. These are very easy to make and consist of a rudimentary square wooden frame (using scrap/rescued wood) with a “tent” of chicken wire stapled to it, weighed down with a few rocks, juuuust in case.

Can’t wait for sweet sweet garlic… breath!