The Dark Horse

Hands down, my swiss chard was absolutely the easiest, most resilient and most productive plant in my garden so far this year.  Here we have the Rhubarb variety:

And the more subtle, traditional version:

What’s wonderful about swiss chard is that it excels at resisting the urge to bolt in the summer heat-in fact not a single one of mine has gone to flower, which is more than I can say for my lettuce, spinach, kale and even broccoli!  Though not as flashy as its red cousin, white stemmed chard does this even better than the colourful varieties and all of them shine at surviving light frost.

And despite our cool and rainy early summer, we managed to escape any Cercospora leaf spot (a fungal disease that causes light brown patches surrounded by purple halos that can form on leaves of chard, beets and sometimes spinach).  Keeping plants properly spaced to promote good air circulation and promptly removing any diseased leaves apparently is key.

To harvest, I cut individual outer leaves with a sharp knife and compost any old leaves that have lost their glossy sheen. Three to five leaves can be picked from mature plants at a time, and leaving the growing crown intact and picking frequently seems to help produce new leaves.

Now I’ve been sneaking new leaves into salads, but older, bigger leaves do best when sautéed or added to soups and stews as any bitterness quickly fades.  Or you could kick it old school and eat it straight out of the garden like my kids-they grab leaves as long as their arms and eat it like it’s cotton candy, complete with red streaks running down their faces!

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Missing the Boat

Less than two weeks ago I got my first glimpse of the new broccoli starting to form; this picture is from the 11th of July:

Given the less than stellar forecast I thought they would have no problem enduring a short period of neglect until I returned from being away.  Turns out my window of opportunity closed much sooner than I expected.  Here you can see the same head has already gone to flower:

West Coast Seeds recommends cutting the central head as soon as the buds begin to flatten and before the yellow flowers appear.  This will encourage the side shoots to produce harvestable buds as well.  The further down the main stock you cut, the fewer, but larger, side shoots will develop.  Unfortunately this broccoli will have to be discarded once harvested, but I was able to find some that were still edible and I’m holding out hope that the side shoots will produce as well.

Fortunately my peas held out for me; in fact we’ve been enjoying an abundance of them for the last month or so.  However, they required a considerable supplement to their support system.  We added several nine foot poles to the bed that’s already a foot and a half off the ground-and they’re showing no sign of slowing down.

Not sure what I’m going to do when they outgrow my husband’s considerable grasp!


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You look away for a moment…

And all of a sudden your garden is out of control and has taken on a life of its own.  As you can see here, the Red Russian Kale has gone to flower, the spinach, kale and swiss chard have shot up and all of the lettuce is in need of harvesting.  How does it happen all at once?!

Of course there are many advantages of a quickly growing garden, not the least of which is getting to see the second generation of your plants come up.  Here we have some new butter crunch lettuce, compliments of the “cut and come again” method that I wrote about earlier.  Instead of pulling out the entire plant when harvesting, I took a knife and sliced the head off, leaving the roots intact.  A couple of weeks later and we can see the regrowth appearing.

The challenge will now be harvesting everything before it’s no longer usable. Anyone hungry?!

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A Pitiful Disaster

Not sure what happened here; it looks as though some critter partially un-dug the arugula and it managed to dry out before I discovered it.  Has anyone else suffered the same fate and gleaned some insight?

It is somewhat disappointing; I’ve had nothing but raging success with arugula in the past and as a perennial it had proven to be a reliable and welcome staple.  Silver lining-I now have a container available for a new addition!

In other news, I’m still getting a lot of good kale, lettuce and spinach, thanks in large part to the cooler temperatures we’ve had lately.  The first of the peas are starting to appear; and the plants are now taller than me!

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Those conniving little….

One of the curses gardeners must contend with is the wretched rust fly.  Similar in appearance to the average house fly, the rust fly’s sole mission in life is to find and infest carrots, parsnips, celery, celeriac, parsley and dill.  They lay larvae which then feast on your crop, leaving pitted vegetables with black rings and holes, making them unfit for human consumption.

Innocuous looking, but actually pure evil:


Your best line of defence is a prophylactic measure; cover all the above mentioned plants with row cover (be careful you don’t grab crop cover).  This will allow sunlight and water through but will impede the rust fly from getting to your carrots and the soil around them. Rotating your crops from season to season is also a good idea, as is harvesting your carrots and other vegetables promptly.

Now, it’s not Fort Knox, but I thought I had done a fairly substantial job of securing the few carrots that managed to come up-until I found one of those sneaky little pests crawling up the underside of the row cover. I admired his dedication, but needless to say he met with an untimely demise.

And speaking of carrots-make sure you choose a compost amendment for your soil that doesn’t include any manure or your carrots will come out very hairy…which I personally find not particularly appetizing, but to each their own!

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Strong like Popeye

I recently realized that nothing makes me feel older than saying something I soon discover is completely culturally irrelevant to my children!  Thankfully this ineffective, Popeye-themed motivation isn’t much required with my kids-they help themselves to spinach right in the garden (at the great peril of the plants themselves, unfortunately).

You can see here the remaining spinach that has managed to stay planted despite the little hands that harvest it; that’s it on either side of the wooden walkway.

It seems crazy, but we’re already nearing the end of spring’s spinach season.  You can see by the flowers that it’s already started to bolt, so it doesn’t have a lot of time left.  I’ve already cut off the flowers to slow it down and I’ll be harvesting a lot of it today.  We’ll enjoy the regrowth until the leaves start to thicken and taste “woody”, then it’s time to pull out the plant until we can start the cooler late Summer/early Fall planting.

One more picture for good measure:

I’ll be sad to see it go…

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Odds and Ends

So, we have the Kale chips recipe, compliments of the lovely Karen Sainas:

“Cut up your bite size Kale ~ toss in olive oil, garlic and sea salt and bake 350 deg till crispy ~ 20 min.   Toss several times while in oven”


Thanks Karen!

And in response to the questions about those flowers in with my tomatoes; those are marigolds, planted to keep away the bugs; apparently effective as the bugs do not like the smell.  Seems to be working so far-the little aphids that have plagued past crops have yet to make an appearance.  Same goes for the slugs in the garden box; so far that strip of sandpaper has been serving us well as I have yet to find a slug or any evidence thereof. Now if I could only think of some way to market that…

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In case you’re better at planning and self control than I am…

I love the idea of winter gardening; I just don’t have the self control necessary to leave myself any space in the garden to do it-this year every available inch has unfortunately been spoken for.  In case you don’t have that problem, or if maybe there’s a corner that was just waiting for some inspiration, the next few weeks is the perfect time to plant some seeds so that you can harvest throughout the winter.

Some good options to try: swiss chard, garlic, spinach, beans, lettuce (Romaine and Red Bowl only; Head lettuce and Buttercrunch have too high a water content to survive freezing), kale, onions & leeks, brussel sprouts, cabbage, purple sprouting brocoli, carrots, beets, rutabaga, cauliflower turnips, Bok Choy and radishes.

And remember, many transplants would wilt in the summer sun.  Plant seeds only, unless starting in late July or August (except for broccoli and brussel sprouts; those transplants can hack it).  The warm soil and sun will help the seeds germinate , the plants will mature in the cooler fall temperatures and essentially be in cold storage throughout the winter for you to use as needed.

And in the meantime, some tomatoes have made their first appearance:

And everything else appears to be progressing rather smoothly:

I didn’t just “jinx” myself, did I?

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It seems too early in the season to have regrets…

I honestly have a ridiculous amount of Kale.  And given how much it’s been producing, I could have easily planted a third of what I did.  But you can’t complain about abundance. Here it is in the back row; still towering despite my aggressive harvesting.

Now don’t get me wrong; I am a huge fan of Kale.  It’s full of vitamins A, C B6 and K and is a great source of fibre and calcium.  And you can grow it all year long; it will tolerate full summer sun but can also happily over-winter in the garden as it thrives in heavy rain and is even sweeter after first frost.

My children and the neighbourhood kids have taken to eating it right out of the garden but for the rest of us, steaming it for 4-8 minutes and adding to everything from mashed potatoes for the Irish dish Colcannon to tossing it in tahini is ideal.  Just leave the plant intact and harvest from the base of the stem.  Keep the leaves and discard the stem.  I’ve been freezing it so I can add it to soups, stews and tomato sauce later in the year (which is somewhat neurotic considering I may never run out of the fresh stuff-especially given that it will self-sow!).  And you can even dehydrate it to make kale chips; Karen-can we talk you into sharing your recipe…?

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Let’s try this again….

We have had our coldest April and May in 50 years, with record low sunshine and higher than average rain fall.  I’ve been feeling my share of garden angst, which is quickly put into perspective when considering farmers are also dealing with seed & plant rot and massive crop failures.

This is how the Scarlet Runner bean should look:

What I got: dark brown, mushy, slimy seeds that failed to thrive.  This is the best of what was left.

So round two.  I soaked the remaining beans for a couple of days and replanted just last week.

And alas, we have one survivor.  Though I’m not sure how much light this little guy is going to get being dwarfed by the peas…

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