The list of chores I already know won’t get done.

January is supposed to be a time of renewal and an opportunity to be energized by new commitments to exercise, diet and a host of other well-intentioned ventures.  But honestly, everyone I know is just plain exhausted and still recovering from all the chaos of Christmas.  Even the most enthusiastic of gardeners can feel the need to enjoy the down season before Spring arrives with all its happy obligations.  But for those keeners eager to get going, this list is a good place to start to put the rest of us to shame.

You could:

-take note of all the areas of standing water in your yard and garden and plan how to improve drainage.  Sounds like a party, I know, but I for one really need to do this.

-in theory, direct sow seeds of peas, broad beans, watercress, dill, beets, radishes, carrots, parsley, bok choy, etc.  I’m still waiting for that “coldest winter in 20 years” to show up and will be delaying that for at least a month or so.

-prune vines, bushes and fruit trees; always a good stress relief but to be avoided if feeling particularly frustrated, lest you over do it.  As you may remember, my fruit trees still look like some tall sticks in a pot, so I’m not even going to bother this year.

-start some seeds indoors, such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.

-and as always, we could all be spreading out compost, spreading mulch around plants and using row cover when the temperature dips (although in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I have been exceedingly lazy in this regard).

-and of course you can continue to harvest any root vegetables or brussel sprouts sweetened by frost and whatever cold hardy lettuce, swiss chard and kale still in the garden.

Or you could take the opportunity to don your rain boots and head out for a good hike…

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The Inevitable March Towards Winter

I dug up the last of the carrots for an American Thanksgiving dinner we hosted for some ex-pat friends of ours over the weekend.   I had been spacing out and replanting the carrots as we used them over the last few months; the ones that remained were even sweeter for having gone through a frost.

If you happen to have carrots, beets or other cold-tolerant root crops left, simply cover the exposed shoulders with leaves or loose straw and they will continue to grow and sweeten until you’re ready to use them.  In fact, the cooler temperatures is what causes the plants to accumulate higher levels of sugar, which not only help them taste better but also protects them from freezing.

But with the cooler weather these last few weeks and with December upon us, this really is the last chance to harvest any of the summer plantings that still remain.  Any surviving tomato plants that have managed to escape blight should be pulled from the ground and hung upside down in a cellar or cold room in a last ditch effort to ripen any tomatoes that may be left.  My cucumbers, zucchini,  squash and pumpkin are done, but if you’re lucky to still have some left, the cellar or basement is their best bet before they rot in the rain.

Here on the West Coast, the official word is that broad beans, spinach, radishes and arugula can still be sown directly into the soil and should be ready to eat in early spring-that is, if they don’t get washed away by a torrential down pour in the meantime.  Garlic too can be planted now and will be ready for harvest in about 9 months.

I worry about seed rot this time of year and plan to focus on what I already have in.  The garden is as full as ever with swiss chard, spinach, kale, broccoli, parsley and hardy lettuces.  Row cover is all that is needed when the temperatures approach zero (although I have yet to actually use it, and despite my garden being full of Cedar & Douglas Fir needles, it’s actually not looking too worse for wear).  Cloches made of wire and plastic that hover just over the plants are a great DIY project for those with time on their hands-for me, with everything else going on this time of year, it’s all about survival of the fittest!

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Let’s call this Flower-Fungi

My children were quite delighted to find some rather lovely flower-type mushrooms amidst the toadstools recently:

I called in the pros but no one had seen anything like it.  My best guess is that this could be Aleuria Aurantia, a brightly coloured fungi that grows mostly in the Douglas fir forests of Oregon, which closely mirror the temperate rain forests we have here on the South Coast of British Columbia.  Any other ideas?

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Canning Peaches, Pears & Pickles

As a child I remember bringing home boxes upon boxes of produce from my Grandparents’ farm in the Okanagan and spending what seemed like the next week canning with my mother-though I may have been more of a hindrance than a help!

Here is a sampling of this year’s spoils…

My mother’s recipes are as follows:

Dills

  • 3 cups vinegar
  • 7 cups water
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt
  • l garlic clove per quart
  • 1/2 tsp alum per quart
  • dill sprigs-2 per jar

Wash wide mouth mason jars in hot water and put in preheated oven to keep warm.
Bring water and pickling salt to a boil so salt dissolves.
Lightly scrub cucumbers and cut off tips at both ends.
In each jar add l garlic clove and 1/2 tsp alum.  Add one dill sprig to the bottom of the jar, add the cucumbers and the follow with another dill sprig.
Fill jars slowly with water – leave 1″ from top.

Run a knife along the inside of the jar to remove any bubbles.  Seal tightly and let sit before moving to cool room.  And you’re done-definitely the easiest of the three!

Peaches

Wash jars in hot water and put in oven to keep warm.
Fill canner with water and bring to boil.
Boil a second pot of water to place peaches in for a short time to loosen the skin and remove skin gently with a paring knife (after an approx. 5-10 min soak it peel easily).
Move the newly skinned peaches into some cold water with some coarse salt added (this will stop them from browning).
Cut peaches in half or in slices, remove the pit and transfer into another lightly salted cold water wash to sit until enough peaches are ready to fill the jars for the canner (approximately 5-7 jars per canner).
In each jar add either 1/4 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey.
Fill jars with peaches and then pour boiling water into each jar to 1″ from top.  Swirl a knife through the jar to remove any bubbles.
Seal tightly and place in canner of boiling water very slowly so jars don’t break.
Boil peaches for 15 to 20 mins.  Remove and let cool.

One case/box of peaches should fill about 12 wide mouth mason jars.

Pears

Pears unfortunately need to be peeled and cored (which can, of course, take a fair bit of time) before they are put in the salted cold water wash.  Once that is taken care of, the canning process is essentially the same as for peaches.
In each jar add either 1/4 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey.
Fill the jars with sliced pears and then pour boiling water into each jar to 1″ from top. Swirl a knife through the jar to remove any bubbles and seal tightly.  Place in canner of boiling water very slowly so jars don’t break.
Boil the pears for 15 to 20 mins.  Remove and let cool.

A big thank you goes out to my Mum and Tante Jocelyne!

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A Second Spring

I love fall planting; after spring it’s my second favourite time of the year!

As you can see I’ve added some Rhubarb swiss chard, more kale, Canary Yellow swiss chard, radicchio, some Paris Island romaine and some Rouge D’Hiver romaine, which as the name suggests, is resistant to cold and makes an excellent fall and winter crop.

My spinach has reseeded on it’s own, but if yours hasn’t, you can still direct sow arugula and spinach seeds right into your soil and they will produce for you over the coming months.

This 25 foot branch came flying at us during last weeks’ storm:

Up next:canning!

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A Modest Harvest

Unfortunately and somewhat predictably, my onions, leeks and beets have been suffering some neglect; as you can see the onions have gone to seed and the beet tops are looking more like vines!

The green onions did well enough:

Now has anyone ever seen leeks that look like this?  I was expecting a long, thick white root and what I got is several bulbs and…well, you tell me:

Fortunately for me the beets were significantly more affirming:

My plan is a rich chocolate beet cake!

 

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The Carnage Continues

I came out the other morning to find my zucchini still on the vine, but half gone and sporting bite marks:

Again my money is on those blasted raccoons.  They must be pretty confident and relaxed, taking their time and enjoying their meal on the spot.  I am so unimpressed, but again, what do I expect?  I’m living in a forest…

On a brighter note, the animals seem a lot less enthusiastic about the eggplant (much like the rest of my family).  Really, couldn’t anyone have thought of a better name for this plant?!

And though technically this is an edible, I honestly bought this Malabar Climbing Spinach vine just because it was so damn pretty:

I’m getting used to the bears, skunks and raccoons, but this is more the scale of “predator” I can comfortably handle:

Pretty benign in comparison; given all the distress caused by those thug raccoons I just didn’t have the heart to kick this little guy off-especially when you consider how hard he had to work to climb all that way!

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Pragmatism over Fury

I knew that gardening in the middle of the temperate rain forest would have its challenges; especially given that we back on to a forest.  However, I underestimated the extent to which the local bears, raccoons, skunks, squirrels and crows would treat it like their local supermarket.  And why wouldn’t they?  It’s all laid out for them, just waiting to be discovered.  I feel like a sucker-is it too crazy to imagine them chuckling behind my back?  I’m sure the answer to that one is yes.

I took this picture this morning of some lovely heirloom Old German tomatoes:

This afternoon I arrived back home to find this plant and two others knocked over, soil everywhere and all traces of tomatoes gone.  Bears are a huge problem here-they’re in and out of people’s backyards throughout the day and night.  One in particular, the “Big Bear” as we call him, spends a fair bit of time in our front yard and will even come right up to the front door and look in through the windows.  But I can’t lay all the blame on him -two days ago I looked out my bedroom window just in time to see a crow fly off with one of my roma tomatoes in its talons!  My window was wide open so I kept my comments to myself.

Now this bed has been planted, dug up and eaten, replanted, dug up, eaten and replanted again.  It’s definitely the work of something with opposable thumbs-my money is on those thug raccoons.  I’ve grown to begrudgingly admire their efficiency-they’re extremely meticulous.  And while it’s starting to get old,  I have learned that while skunks will dig indiscriminately and make an un-holy mess of everything, raccoons will be much more selective and methodically go about their business.   Jerks.

So gone are my A-type straight rows; I employed more of a “square foot gardening” meets “grab whatever hasn’t been gnawed on too badly and stick it back in the ground before it dries out” method.  Here we have cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, turnip, celery, butternut squash, swiss chard, broccoli, beets and kale.

So far this pumpkin has escaped everyone’s attention and I’m really hoping it makes it to Halloween.  Any thoughts on the ethical/legal implications of an electric fence in the middle of the city?

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

We were lucky enough to enjoy some of personal chef James A. Groot’s* superb fare last month at the Sustainable Food Expo.  My oldest, after going back for fourths (sorry James!) of some amazing beets and beet greens, looked at me with a glazed over, zen-like expression and said “eating like this makes me feel peaceful…”.  I couldn’t agree more!

Here we have a sampling of our latest harvest of the same:

Beets thrive best in the cooler conditions of spring and fall and are at their optimum when harvested once they reach about an inch and a half in diameter; anything exceeding 3 inches will likely be tough and fibrous.  I still have some in the ground and hope to plant even more in a few weeks.  In fact, it’s recommended to plant the ones you hope to use over the winter about ten weeks before the first predicted frost-so you can see I’m being optimistic!  And although they can easily be stored in the cellar (greens removed with no more than an inch of stem remaining) or even in the short-term, in the fridge in a plastic bag, here on the west coast we have the luxury of simply leaving them in the garden. Cutting the tops off (and enjoying them, of course) is said to help retain the moisture in the root, but if you choose to leave the tops on, they’ll go dormant until about mid-February and then start to grow again-in which case they can be eaten up until April.

And then we start all over again!

*An experienced and gifted personal chef, James can be reached at jamesgroot@telus.net.

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A Guilty Conscience

I got a nice surprise the other day; here my oldest is holding a little beauty that appeared after some generous, guilt-driven watering:

I had noticed recently that my potatoes were looking really rough and just assumed that I had been neglecting my watering responsibilities and silently gave myself a good scolding.  Turns out that the wilting I saw was just the potatoes being ready for harvest a few weeks sooner than I was expecting.

So it’s unfortunate my guilty conscience drove me to water them right when I should have desisted, but I’ll let them dry out now and hopefully be able to enjoy a good harvest later this week.

And hopefully they’ll keep until the weather calls for some comfort food!

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