Friday, November 29, 2013

winter in the garden

it's our first winter here at the new house, and we finally got a snow worth talking about. the first snow is always so refreshing.. and super bright when the sun comes out upon it. i was awake early to sneak some shots before the sun was high.

an end to one season, and the beginnings of the next.. walking around the yard and pondering the clean slate helps us to dream up ideas for the spring. last year, our first year in the new house, we learned a few key lessons about the new plot. the main one being, leave more space. at the last house we could plant things much closer together and they did not interfere with one another except to in some cases support or shelter each other where needed. in this space, it quickly overgrew. the soil us much deeper and more fertile here, not as much clay as the last place.

we did a lot of travelling in 2013, more than expected, which meant almost two entire months scattered about weeks here and there where the garden didn't receive any care. the further back, more wild garden beds survived just fine, but the kitchen garden closer to the house quickly got out of hand, and too much of the produce never made it to plate. on the plus side, there is a lot of fallen plant matter to compost in the heap and on the beds that we will use to build the soil. no tilling or turning.

next year we will be spending much more time at home with our garden. our design will be better fitted to the space we have available so that we can maximize our usage of the yard, and have better access to the bounty of abundance. we are already excited for spring, and it's only the first snowfall...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

sharing with local wildlife

we are pretty close to the downtown core of our city so luckily we don't have to guard our plot from too many large animals such as deer, but we are visited by rabbits, rats and most often squirrels. we are pretty far south so our squirrels are the big bushy tail american ones, like little teams of acrobats they find the best way to get into everything.

i knew we would have visitors, so i planned to plant enough to share. this is my first time growing sunflowers, and i have been excited all year to reap their bounty. every time i go out to the yard i pick a small handful of seeds straight off the flower and eat them raw. they taste amazing and are power packed with nutrients! few things in life are more satisfying than eating something we've grown fresh ourselves.

so about sharing.. most of our sunflowers were planted along the fence, which may not have been the best spot for them.. this made them too accessible to the squirrels. they had enough force behind them when jumping from the top of the fence to take the sunflowers down to the ground and decimate the entire heads. the ones planted along the open space where there is no fence yet are still standing, they only managed to grab the seeds closest to the stem where they hang from to sneak a snack.

i don't mind sharing, but next time our placement will be a little better so that we get at least as much of the seeds as the squirrels. we are thinking of trying other tall plants next year such as corn to form a natural green barrier between us and the surrounding car lots behind the chain link fences. it helps to block the wind and blowing dust from the nearby road, creates a 'sunbowl' effect, and a slightly warmer microclimate for other tender plants. we will also try mixing in other types of sunflower and wild natives to further beautify the yard and attract other beneficial insects.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happy Autumn Equinox 2013

harvest season is upon us at the garden city homestead, and it's colourful.


Friday, September 13, 2013

the majestic sunflower

i'm in love with our sunflowers.. we were so happy that we got to see the first one open to greet us the morning that we left for nova scotia, and greeted by all of their smiling faces when we arrived home. we will certainly do more sunflowers next year! they are the biggest things we have started from seed, it's so exciting to see something so big come from a tiny little seed. nature is so magical..

the tallest sunflower is well over six feet tall, and we started them quite late in the season.. we plan to do many more next year. they make a great backdrop to block out the view of the industrial complex nearby, and the bees love them! they help to filter out some of the harsh afternoon sun, and hopefully they will make us some tasty snacks as well.. this week is looking like it will warm up again, there has been so sun to be seen all weekend.

next year we will also try a variety of different kinds of sunflowers, some for [edible] seed, and some for decoration [and to attract more bees]. we will use these and other tall varieties of food bearing plants such as corn along our fence line to create our own little private green space in the heart of the city.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

freezing our tomatoes

if you haven't guessed by now, i'm slightly tomato obsessed! it was a long, sad winter without the delicious fresh tomato taste as i refuse to buy them out of season from a grocery store. between missing harvest season and moving suddenly last year, i didn't get the chance to preserve any of last summer's bounty. now i have the chance!
we may have planted a few more tomato plants than needed, and we didn't expect them to do so well as the past couple years have been bad for dry rot. anyways we ended up with a ton of enormous, delicious tomatoes and we don't want any of the bounty to go to waste.

we are currently housed in a small bachelor basement apartment which we refer to as our 'hobbit hole'. though it has many benefits such as a huge back yard in which we can grow as much food as we want, there are drawbacks like not having a real kitchen. our tiny little induction element isn't big enough for a canning pot, but we do have a chest freezer so we decided this year we would try freezing them.
as you can imagine we spent a great deal of time trying to decide what was the best way to deal with tomatoes before freezing.. should we skin them? cut them? core them? freeze them whole??? and we decided after weighing the pros and cons of all the methods that we would simply bag them up and freeze them whole. that way we can take from the bags as needed, and they should be easy to skin after thawing anyway. this will better lock in the flavour than if they were skinned or cut i think, no matter the method they're pretty well guaranteed to be mushy, so we opted for the least impact method. plus we had tons, and there's still five times more not ready yet.

we will have to deal with them when we return from the east coast, many soups and sauces are in the future of this batch. we have already used some of the yellow ones fresh for sauce, and they added a sweet fresh flavour to our pasta dish. i was planning to try roasting them with peppers and garlic and making a delicious salsa with them as well.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

late august bounty

it's harvest time in the garden.. there's something becoming ripe for our enjoyment daily. we have enjoyed fried green tomatoes, eggplant tempura and eggplant burgers [that turned out amazing!], various flavours of tea, some super fresh pasta sauce, spices, sandwiches [made with deli fresh bread!] and salads.. all grown in our very own back yard.

one thing i'm most proud of growing has to be our giant sunflower. there are half a dozen or so around the back yard, but this one in particular is massive. it stands well over our heads and the stalk is well over an inch across, and it hasn't even flowered yet! but it's working on it.. we had a late start this year with our last minute move, so we didn't have a chance to start a garden right away after last frost. on top of that we had to start from scratch in an overgrown backyard turned meadow after the grass had a chance to get waist height. what an adventure... and here we are, almost fall. what a great gardening experience, so much learned and so much yet to try!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

gifts from the garden

there has truly been no shortage of tomatoes in the garden this season, and i say keep 'em coming! i love fresh tomatoes, and this year we will learn how to freeze and can them so that we can make use of them over the winter. it's a good thing that toasted tomato sandwiches are one of my favourites, and matt loves his fried green! 
 i'm excited about the sunflowers this year. for some reason i never tried them until now, and they are certainly the biggest thing i have ever grown from seed. the biggest sunflower towers over me, and it's not even flowered yet! this one along the back bed i snapped a shot of as it's starting to bud, and i noticed after the fact that there's an enormous daddy long legs just hanging out on one of the leaves.
here's something that we weren't expecting, i was told by other tenants of the house that the grape vine along the back fence hasn't produced fruit in years. so i was surprised to find a few bunches hanging out on the vines. i was happy enough to have it as a wind block and a privacy screen, plus the vines are a lot more pleasing to the eye than the car lot on the other side of the chain link fence.

every day there's something new to discover in the garden. just having a garden is a gift of it's own, but it's an amazing feeling knowing that you can have something beautiful to enjoy, and it will feed you too. my partner agrees:)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

weekends in the garden

 i've been spending the past couple weekends camping out back with the garden patch, and giving it some much needed attention. it hasn't been quite the same since the storm hit, but most of the plants are still doing pretty well. the herbs, funny enough, were the things that suffered the most, we lost more than half of them under the blown over tomatoes and kale. next year's redesign will address the wind we haven't been used to preparing for in previous years. after another weekend of trimming and staking, i ws pleased to find a few good sized black beauty eggplants!
 the fig tree seems to be happy as well, the fruits are starting to show a bit more growth, but i'm still skeptical that they will become full sized fruits this year. i wasn't expecting the tree to fruit at all in it's first year, and yet here she is, decked out in little figs.
talk about a jungle.. what survived also thrived, especially along the west facing side of the patch. the purple kale looks as majestic as ever, as well as behind it the rainbow swiss chard. both plants looking almost prehistoric. the sunflowers are the biggest thing i've ever [successfully] grown from seed, and they are my trophies this year. i plan to plant them again next season, maybe right in the ground this time instead of starting them in jiffy pots. the squirrels and birds can't possibly find every seed, could they?! ha..
 up front some of our surviving herbs, and the heirlooms coming in enormous. this was one of the plants that broke right over and re-rooted itself right away. there's got to be over a dozen huge tomatoes on this plant alone!
 the garden looking a little less jungle like after a trim, you can get into the path once again. i was pleased to discover there is still life lurking beneath the tangled mess left by the storm, more than i had expected. our eggplants are survivors, even after being smothered once given space they bounced right back and are starting to flower like crazy.

Friday, August 9, 2013

tomato rainbow..

between the batch of green tomatoes knocked loose from last week's incident, and the ones coming up ripe on the vine, we have been feasting on many garden fresh specimens. cherries for salads, early girl for sammiches, and the greens were some delicious heirlooms that we ended up slicing green to make some fried green tomatoes. it was my first time trying them as i had never fancied the idea of eating them green, but they turned out to be very yummy, zesty and flavourful!

so flavourful in fact, that i refuse to eat 'fresh' tomatoes in the winter. these so called tomatoes that you can get at the grocery store are bland, watery and acidic in comparison to any tomato grown and picked fresh off the vine. luckily this year we should have enough left over to do some canning so that we have garden fresh goodness to make sauce and salsa with all winter, yum!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

the tomato incident

back when we had that big storm, the tomato plants must have taken it the worst. they were heavy with fruit and had outgrown their six foot stakes, and when the wind and rain got to them it pushed them to the ground. in the following week we had to gently lift many of the plants back up and restake them, and untangle the mess of limbs of them and the neighbouring plants.
one plant in the further end of the bed had fallen back over, and when we attempted to lift it for the second time, the main limb snapped right off with about a dozen full sized green tomatoes attached. i pulled the branch and saved the fruit, and hit google for some ideas on what to do with them all. the green tomato bread sounds interesting..
we also got to pick our first legit ripe tomatoes, a couple little cherries on the vine. i can't wait until we have buckets of them for salads and fresh homemade salsa! good thing there's more on the way... speaking of tomatoes, i know i had mentioned earlier that the plants got far bigger than we had expected. this gives us ideas on how to design for next year. we know now that we can afford to give them a little more space, and we may actually move them into a further extension of the garden, and keep the closer bed exclusively for herbs and flowers. just an idea for now, we'll see how it draws out.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


the food garden recovered well after the storm. it required immediate attention, but we managed to lift just about everything back up off the ground. the bed is certainly a little bit overgrown, i have cut back enough branches from the tomatoes that you can walk up the center of the patch, and see what lies beneath. as i had mentioned in a previous post, we weren't expecting the garden to get so big considering our experience in previous years.

the garden is so thick it's almost like a mini food jungle.. when you walk into the center of it you can feel that it holds it's own temperature that is much cooler than the sweltering summer heat present on the outside. the soil beneath is dry only on the very outer layer, i probed the bed with my finger and i could see that it also holds a fair amount of moisture. i bought a hose almost a month ago because we had almost a week without rain and dragging cans of water out from the basement was becoming tiresome. i used the hose all of twice, and since the garden has been able to hold it's own. we haven't gotten this much rain in years, but it has rained every two or three days which has eliminated the need to water pretty much all summer so far.

when we first put the eggplants into the ground, we were concerned that the crazy weather at the start of the season may have stunted them, as they began to flower when they were only half a foot tall, barely strong enough to stand never mind holding fruit. then we had one of those days where it just would not stop raining, and within a few days the plants had nearly tripled in size. a couple of the asian eggplants have quite a bit of fruits on them, just about ready to be enjoyed.

though the storm did a lot of damage to the garden, the damage was a blessing to the rainbow swiss chard. we didn't think it would make it this year.. at the beginning of the season some sort of slug or insect had a feast on both plants. there was next to nothing left of the leaves. after cutting it back to allow it to re-grow, much of the surrounding vegetation had gotten enormous and shaded out the chard. when the storm hit it blew many of those things aside and allowed the swiss chard to thrive.

there will be so many tomatoes! last year the summer was so intensely hot and dry, no matter how much we watered we still ended up getting blossom rot on the first round of tomatoes. this year they are plump and full, and there are many. these heirloom purple striped make some funky shapes, i love heirlooms! so much character, and flavour too. the over planting this year combined with the process we used to build the beds created a perfect little microclimate for growth in what used to be a sun drenched little patch of meadow. in the next post i'll recap the method used to build the beds, which was far less labour intensive than our methods in previous years, and much more fruitful. not to mention, barely any 'weeds'!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Storm Damage

it's been a hot week.. brutally hot. last weekend i went on retreat to a slightly northerly vacation to swim in a lake and escape the city, and when i returned the garden had had another growth spurt, and outgrown most of it's stakes. because of the heat [even at night, augmented with killer mosquitoes!] i hadn't much of a chance to fix it, especially since last week i had just tied everything up to the top of 6 foot stakes there wasn't much i could do without taller ones.

finally the weather cools down, but there are only a few moments before a frightening black cloud erupts over the peninsula unleashing one of the craziest storms we have had in the past decade. the lightning was something to behold.. the wind and rain was spinning and intense, and somewhere in the weather mash up the garden took a beating. when we went out to check midway through the storm we could see that almost all of it had been pushed right down to the ground.

our last garden patch was completely surrounded by a wooden fence which acted as an excellent wind break, and saved the garden from damages like this. the more wild, almost entirely freestanding method from last year's place doesn't work here, as the field next door is an open invitation for the wind. this is the first time all year we have felt it's wrath, and this has been a key learning point for next year's garden.

i hadn't expected this patch to get as enormous as it did, big thick healthy stocks and tomato plants and vines far taller than i am. the land is fertile, our bed building method worked like a charm, and we've gotten far more rain this spring/summer than we have in the last five combined. it was just a mash of all the perfect elements to help the bed quickly overgrow and get out of control.

i suppose the fact that we weren't expecting to have a garden this year [and then built one last minute] is a contributor to the minimal staking method we went with.. after all was said and done support structures were minimally in the budget. many pieces were recycled. we had expected that the only way we would get to grow anything this year was going to be in minimally maintained patches cached away around the town, we wanted to see if it was possible to build small patches that require minimal support and care. our findings conclude that with proper wind break, it is completely possible, as long as the bed is built well in the first place.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

early summer fruits

first to the finish line, some pickling cukes! they started flowering not very long ago, and already these are just about ready to pick. we have a large supply of our own fresh dill, and will be trying our hand at makin' pickles. the next thing that will finish seems to be the bush variety zucchini, the plant has almost a dozen fruits taking off under it's enormous leaves.

i'm excited for the zucchini, i'll most likely trade a few of them to a baker in exchange for a fresh zucchini loaf. otherwise we are beginning to see tomatoes, and there's also quite a few mature peppers coming through. i was also surprised to find along the back fence that the wild grapes are actually producing fruit, we will have to see if they will end up being edible.

 the beds are looking beautiful, so far the cardboard garden experiment is going very well. there are next to no 'weeds', and if there are they are usually only along the edge so that they are easy to pull. there are a few blades of grass here and there, but considering i didn't pull many of the roots out, that's not bad. not a problem as of yet, and the vegetation has certainly become thick enough to shade out any 'intruders'.

you can barely see the path! but there still is one, it's a good thing i made it as wide as i did, or there would be no walking space. we will have to go through again and re-tie a lot of the tomatoes, they're growing so fast they need some adjustment. the beds seem to be keeping very moist on their own, they require no watering until the third day of heat without rain, it mostly stands up on it's own so i don't have to worry if i go away for the weekend. it's nice! there's a lot planned for next year based on this year's overall success, possibly including fruit trees and shrubs.

Monday, July 1, 2013

growth explosion

we have been getting a lot of rain the past couple weeks, which has helped the garden catch up to where it should be growth wise. we have been getting some crazy weather, [really hot, then really really cold] which stunted some of the plants, especially the peppers and the eggplants. the peppers went into flower mode immediately and so did some of the eggplants.
now you can actually see the little eggplants hiding amongst the other plants, they're finally more than twice the size they were when i put them in the ground. i was afraid they were permanently stunted. i may still end up with miniature eggplants if any at all, i know a couple of them had already started to flower.
...and check out these figs! i wasn't sure we would get fruit the first year, it is but a tiny tree. but the lady at the farmers market told me as long as it's well watered and fed it should produce something this season. and voila! there's about a dozen fruit started on the tree. how exciting!
the zucchini plant has to be the biggest thing in the garden by mass and volume.. the thing is just huge. the stalks are almost as big around as the finished fruit should be, and there's half a dozen fruits coming through already. the leaves are bigger than my head, and the bush has to be over five feet across. i gave it three, and i also put it in a low spot hoping the extra water accumulation would help it survive the summer heat. it also helped it to take over that entire corner of the garden..
the closely planted food polycultures are proving to work well so far. now that the foliage is almost covering the beds completely it is easy to see that the plants help one another by confusing pests, shading the soil to keep in moisture, and shading smaller more delicate plants from the harsh sun, thus allowing them to thrive in the moist microclimates amongst other palnts. this also crowds out potential 'weeds' from flourishing as there is little room left for intruders.