Friday, December 23, 2011

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!"

We're having a "White Christmas"! What a surprise waking up this morning to a blanket of snow, from the rooftops to the treetops, flakes gently falling, silence all around, "The Peace of Christmas Time". Crows watching, watching...where are the seeds, please...

Berries and rose hips are long gone here now except for Holly; greens no longer bright under a grey sky; rhododendron leaves curled up tight against the cold. Tromping through the garden, we shook off the heavy burden bearing weight on branches. Weather like this can ice up so quickly to just have a walk about and give a gentle shake to those needing relief.

Inside, the tree is decorated, standing tall, sparkling. Peace, Believe, Hallelujah, Joy.. pure white words communicate what Christmas ideally means to me, angels, churches, dragonflies, reindeer, icicles and more.

Then...there are gifts...blogger gifts, unexpected. Friendships softly blooming as years unfold, thoughtful ..ever so thoughtful.

What a wonderful year it's been...  The mail also brought a book from another blogger (thanks MC) and in another envelope, a cheque..yes, a proper cheque for two photos used in a book. Can you imagine that...well not me, not two years ago, not before I started blogging...not before I met so many like minded and inspiring gardeners, writers, chefs, crafts people, artists, ...the list..I could go on. Thank YOU.

Blogging gives the whole world a voice. Isn't that the most incredible gift.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December Update

Frozen in mid drip overnight, water collects on Brussels Sprouts leaves. Pine needles appear to make a stem in nature's frozen flower form.
Fingers crossed, the Brussels Sprouts will be of a decent size to harvest by December 25th. I noticed today, how beautifully ice shimmered on it's purple leaves, the plants prostrate now, their bodies hanging over the side of the back raised bed as if they have had enough. "Harvest me and get it over with" they seem to say, like some wilting diva, finished and fainting.

"Well soon", I console..."but not quite yet. I've got a bit of pancetta to fry you in Christmas Day, and when you are sautéed almost  fork tender, a few added dried cranberries will sweeten your taste.  Hang on, don't go all weak on me yet".

Peeling back the plastic hoop cover, the last of the beets waited. Red glossy Bulls Blood leaves and root went into the Greek Salad tonight, as did Blankoma, boiled, peeled and sliced.
I love cooking with white beets, no staining of fingers and bleeding on counter tops. Blankoma has just as much flavor as any other variety; next year I will grow both of these again but in another bed as this one still has traces of leaf miner from adding a mulch of infested birch leaves. Don't make that mistake!

The coming of winter seems to have thrown a bit of a blanket over the whole gardening experience so I need to try harder to be inspired. Today was a skies, no rain, frozen hard cold ground to walk on, no was uplifting being out there again. We put wire protection around the trees and shrubs mice and rabbits like best, but heh..haven't seen a rabbit in ages so guess the fox or bobcat has them hunted down too far to recover.

The front cold frame covered raised bed is still growing well, Swiss Chard glowing in the afternoon sun, red mustard greens at it's feet. The latter was new to me last year...a green not bothered by insects and extremely versatile in a salad or stir fry, spicy, peppery and cold hardy.
It's building up to Christmas here at our house, days slipping by quickly. If you celebrate, I expect it is the same at your home. So, just in case I do not get to blog before the 25th, we sincerely wish you all a Buon Natale, and pray that Peace, like your garden, will grow and prosper in the coming year.

Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Change and Distractions

Don't know about you, but the older I get, the harder it is to accept change. The past few weeks have been a learning curve because, we finally gave in, bought a  new computer and upgraded to Windows 7.  We've gone wireless too...what a great word heh!! The wider screen took a bit of getting used to but the zippy speed, that's wonderful. I've been keeping 'her' (well she is purple :-), on the kitchen table for now, which I wouldn't say is a mistake but my eyes keep lifting to the garden. When the weather changed back to summer (yup, weather's been just so odd this fall), I did something I never do this late...I tidied up.

There are a lot of pro's and con's to fall clean up. Comparing my garden to my neighbour K's, hers suffers very little insect damage, and I must admit to being a little envious of it's "put to bed look" tidy and neat waiting for spring when she won't have any cleanup to do at all. Mine does have insect damage but over the years has bounced ahead and become quite lush. Seed heads are left for birds and winter interest;  bugs sleep waiting to plague me next year. Not cutting down the ornamental grasses gives them a better chance to survive, their crowns protected from freeze and thaw cycles. Although tempted to remove the dead tomato stalks on the back wall, imagining snow tracing their outlines stopped me. But, do I want all that work in spring?..would I be happier with a more...controlled and tidy aspect?

So this year, I have tried K's idea, just in the front beds of the veg garden, this giving me an opportunity to plant fragrant tulips, Ballerina. It felt wonderful working garden muscles again..dirt back under my fingernails, the smell of organic damp all around.

There is a change of attitude within as well.... I find myself humming Johnny Cash.."at my door, the leaves are falling". Blue sky days and bright sun show the best of reds..the dogwood trees are outstanding.

Cornus Milkyway in Autumn's Glow
The computer change feels a bit more comfortable now. Two weeks ago, it took over my every thought ..layers of lasagna garden soil which you build from the bottom up...and when it this has in my brain, it starts to make sense.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

We're not the Only Harvesters

The Ornamental Kale blasts black against the white pickets and garden hoops. I'm really pleased with how it's performed and although sold as ornamental, this Kale is fine to eat, just not as tasty as some others out there. The nasturtium bounced back from the initial frost while Egyptian Walking Onion and baby garlic spike the foreground. It's time to take a seat.......time to sit, watch and listen. Can you hear the crows in your garden making a racket most mornings now? The squirrels are scampering through the forest mouths full of whatever it is squirrels store other than pine nuts. We had a little one munching on a cherry tomato the other small and unafraid; the tomato looked as big as an apple clenched in such tiny claws. It's good for the soul, to take notice and appreciate the precious treasure around us.

Sometimes, I can get so focused on the jobs to be done, the prep for next year, the taking care of business before the heavy frosts and winter's arrival, I don't listen to what my garden is telling me, or look to see what nature is showing Mr. Chipmunk stocking up for the long cold nights ahead. What if I hadn't been sitting, watching and listening? He was a highlight of my autumn day, with Olympic dreams, health maintained  on a diet of  Vitamin 'C' packed rose hips (Rosa glauca rubrifolia to be exact).

Olympian upside down pose
Vitamin C capsules for Optimum health!
We've been sifting compost the last few days..and by we, I mean the Captain..not me. However, the shifting of same was carefully done by Moi... gently shoveled under the hoops where seeds of spinach and winter greens were planted way way too late. Chard, Dinosaur Kale and Red Bull Beets are still providing crop. Sigh....Chocolate compost...the way to a garden girl's heart.

Mr. Chipmunk and I are thinking alike, storing food for winter. Today was spent blitzing kale and chard for soups; green confetti squished thinly flat in freezer bags. That way, it stores easily and I can break off bits of it's rich earthy robustness to add to wintertime soups. Meanwhile, I also tried a Kale Kimchi which needs a week or so to ferment. This fermenting business is new (again) to me, and seems a promising way to store a lot of vegetables. Yes, I've pickled things in the past, made cider and baked bread, but there's a whole world of ferment out there I haven't accessed yet.

The cold framed raised bed also received a nice dressing of compost. This is our second winter trying to extend the season with fresh salad greens and it can be done! Niki Jabbour will soon have a book available through Storey Publishing and I can't wait until it's out in December. Hers is a Nova Scotia experience so it appeals greatly to me, although the book itself is for all regions.

Meanwhile, The Cap's gone all tired with the work he's had to do......The poor man needs a rest.......

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Sky is White

I'm waiting for blue skies to fully bring autumn's color to life. It's been white and grey overhead, but in the woods and along the river, it's so darn beautiful, it takes my breath away. Autumn in Nova Scotia...can't imagine wanting to be anywhere else this time of year.

We were hit by two light frosts a week ago, so we knew it was time for a tidy up. The summer squash, annuals and nasturtium said goodbye, and you know I'm just as happy.
The view has changed, and now, the focus is on planting garlic, drying beans, making applesauce, ripening tomatoes.
Arugula, mache and cool climate lettuce have germinated in the raised bed cold frame, so we are enjoying baby peppery leaves on open face sandwiches, as well as plates of tomatoes sliced to mirror autumn's bright glow.
Beloved tomatoes, gathered just before the frost, still providing salads.
The big yellow slices are German Gold, then I believe, red Wentzel, and the darker one is Purple Prince. The latter was quite prolific although for flavor, German Gold is outstanding. (am not 100% sure these are German Gold but that is what they were sold to me as)  My neighbour  was kind enough to offer her basil plants when she left the province and they have continued to grow in the warmth of the summer house. Just a brush against them, walking through the door, fills the air and makes me hungry.

It's almost "quiet time" right now. The shed needs cleaning out, the compost boxes need emptying...and there's that birdhouse to put up and it wouldn't hurt to edge a bit in the front to show we cared about that part of the garden as well. should be a pleasure and not a I travel along the autumn woodland paths knowing there are things to do in the garden but secure in this thought......"all in good time".

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Opening the Photo Album

When we bought this property, thirteen years ago, I poured over books and magazines, trying to figure out what to do with a barren backyard bordered on two sides by woodland, a broken down ole Chicken House at the back, a dilapidated wall on the other side of the property, and a white gravel parking area outside the back door. Yes, it was discouraging and when we look at the photos makes us tired ;-). The folks who lived here previously, had a productive garden (we assumed), evidenced by a huge exposed area of brown dirt. A lovely hand painted sign hung by the back door: "Garden Cottage". Yup..I was hooked...
View from: 1. back of house, 2. back of property, 3. Corner of house
So in May, 1999, we moved here to the South Shore of Nova Scotia to start a new garden. Viewed from 3 large kitchen windows shouldn't it have some 4 season structure or interest....mmmmm.  Shouldn't it also be close by, steps from the house, so we could enjoy it, work in it, smell it and treasure it. Residing the house, a new roof, new would all have to wait. The garden came first.
We began to build the garden enclosure, and removed the parking area.
It was, then, and remains, a labour of love.  With no design skills in both our backgrounds, we felt a bit overwhelmed. There's no way I would have thought of ...well, for all intents and purposes....putting an English type of country garden in a woodland area, thinking it would work.  BUT...I saw it in a magazine...really I did. There was this beautiful lush vegetable garden surrounded by worn, faded pickets and that, was surrounded by deep perennial beds, full of color and texture. It was nestled in a forest...romantic, inviting, charming. "There" I pointed to the photo..."that's what I want...that, there, exactly! "

Things changed as the years went by....the fence rebuilt, a long flower and shrub bed, presses against it; the shed was also rebuilt so we could start transplants early. It evolved...we evolved. 
Last week, after having cleared out most of the tomatoes, bean and pea supports, I went to the upper window and took this photo, looking down on the back yard. It's hard to believe the change. We enjoyed the journey though..... the joys and challenges. It's defined us, as we defined it; each nurturing the other.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

End of September Round Up

We had an offer of horse manure a few weeks ago so off to Blandford!... driving up, up, up to a beautiful farm with a view for miles and miles and miles, where we could see as far away as Ironbound and Tancook. Truly splendid!
The Contributors, Sheila and Frosty
It's a great gift, receiving composted goodness for the garden, and appreciated very much. Some, we dug by hand but the rest was loaded by tractor..... a team effort for sure. The ladies supervised  ;-)
It's that time of year when my thoughts are turning to next year's garden. I listen and talk, as I walk and harvest. "Why didn't you taste better" I asked the tomatoes. "Too much rain" they said back. Yes..too much rain. I didn't know it would water down the flavor, but it makes perfect sense. The paste tomatoes and the cherry tomatoes didn't seem too affected but some of the heirlooms were.
Mexico Midget, Black Cherry and Sun Gold tomatoes with Fortex Beans
Speaking of  cherry tomatoes, we are barely keeping up with eating them fresh, but I have been slicing them in half, tossing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and roasting in a single layer (shallow dish) for twenty minutes at 400 f oven.  Quite a lovely lovely dish served with crusty bread and a bit of basil. Adding some garlic wouldn't hurt either, now that I think of it. The tomatoes should still have their shape, but soft inside.

Inside the cottage garden, the veg love is resting, mostly, waiting to be harvested and preserved, or eaten.  Highlights, along with Verbena Bonariensis and spilling nasturtium, include Amaranthus grown from a spring planted, variety pack. Months ago it didn't look as if  it would turn into much. Come September though, it has the most beautiful tassels and as far as I know, all Amaranthus are edible. The Goldfinch and even the Junco's hang from the stems eating the miniscule seeds of this plant commonly called Love Lies Bleeding.
There is one rather exciting triumph in the garden. Back on the bean wall, where we trellised tomatoes this year, a few beans, cucumbers and one Trombocino squash for the first time...well I don't know which I love more about this squash...the leaves reaching for the sky, shadows dancing in the sun....
....or the outstanding fruit of the vine which hangs rather frighteningly from the supports. This is edible, but the jury is out on the taste...some say great, others say yuk! I grew it mostly as a novelty, something I rarely do, but it makes me smile. How big will it grow?????
So that's a bit of a roundup in the garden. Still lots to eat for a family of two, sometimes four..... beet greens, beets, chard, summer squash, last of the beans, kale, leeks, last of tomatoes, a few baby eggplant, cabbage, potatoes and fingers crossed, maybe some Brussels sprouts. That's another story.  Arugula, mache and spinach were planted a week or so ago and  have germinated; so, late season salads will soon be on the menu.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Open Farm Day!

Farm view from the bay

Bay view from the farm
For quite a few years now, we've passed a local farm, when out in our picnic boat. It's at the end of a dead end road so unless you were visiting the farm, you wouldn't get a chance to see it, except from the water. I didn't realize it was a productive farm until a few years ago, when I could hear roosters and peacocks calling from across the voices that would creep into my subconscious in the dawn hours loosening memories of our past farm life. Sometimes, when motoring by, sheep hugged the slope, and more recently, a big beautiful work horse has appeared.
Near the top, sits a small Gothic roofed children's play house; behind the trees you can just make out the old white farm house. Sometimes, when we would go by, a man would be sitting under the apple tree near the shore, and we would wave, happy to see him, a picture of contentment returning his pleasure with a wave back.
Then, a few days ago, a sign was posted beside the road ..."Open Farm Day" your farmer!  Now, I know, not everyone enjoys visiting a working farm, cause there are a few ick factors involved...poo for instance (flip flops not encouraged))). But if you really want to experience where your food comes from or in this instance, view show quality birds with names like Columbian, Barred, Patridge and White Rocks; Black Breasted, White and Silver Phoenix; Silver Spangled Hamburgs; Buff Brahma Bantams; Khaki Campbells and Rouen, East Indies and Pekin Ducks... then Circle Pond Farm was the place to be today!
A Beautiful Silver Laced Wyandotte in foreground
 I have never been on a farm where breeding of Purebred Heritage Poultry, Turkeys, Pheasants, Ducks and Guinea fowl provided farm income...this was clearly a labour of love.
Geese waltzed around acting like they owned the place
The Emus were everyone's favorite
One Emu sported a red and blue a heritage breed. Seems he or she couldn't keep out of the way when 'someone' was painting outside! Funny birds...they liked to be petted, seemed so domesticated, happy and carefree. Certainly, like the geese, they had the run of the place, much to our pleasure.

The intent of the Open Farm, and "meet your farmer" initiative, is certainly to introduce and make his or her acquaintance but what stood out for me, were the children. They were everywhere, encouraged by their parents, engaged by the animals, delighting in the whole experience. Games were played, hot dogs and burgers served, history lessons on various heritage poultry craftily taught, and a 4 H petting zoo was certainly a highlight.

So...which breed was Benjamin Franklin's choice as the United States National Bird?......first question on the Chicken Challenge..

And NOW....for the Answer!!!

As the sign says..and I can attest to this...yes...we can hear the turkeys a mile away..and the roosters, and the Peacocks and the Guinea Fowl..but you know...I'm good with that. The pleasure is all mine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tomato Fest in Nova Scotia

Where else, but at a Tomato Fest, would you get the opportunity to taste over fifty varieties of tomatoes! Although it was a bit of a drive from the South Shore to Middleton, in the Annapolis Valley, I wouldn't have missed this FIRST Time event for the world. The sky was blissfully blue, and the temperature just perfect for a fine get together with like minded tomato fanatics!
Click on photos to zoom in on named varieties
Tomato Heaven!
Of course, the merits of each variety were poured over....color, depth of taste, acid or sweet, perhaps a little of both? Do you want a sandwich size, or a pop in your mouth size? Paste did you say....San Marzano, Amish Paste or Speckled Roman to name just a few.   Black, Snow White and Sunshine Yellow Cherry begged to be eaten ;-).  Tiny Mexico Midget and Chiapis Wild, Giant Berkeley Tie Dye and almost equally huge Pineapple to satisfy your craving. The names alone, felt like a journey around the world and through time.
Mayan Indian, Cherokee Purple, Viva Italia...  One guest made a plate of tastes for her hubby who couldn't attend. Now why didn't I think of that?

Seedsman Owen Bridge, conducted a work shop "Saving your tomato seeds"; a peek in his greenhouse showed stacks of seeds drying, waiting to be placed in packets to send out to growers like you and I.

For a much fuller description of the tomatoes grown by Owen at Annapolis Seeds, go here. want to know my favourite out of allllll those I tasted do you?  My final decision...Black Cherry and Costoluto....both juicy and perfectly delicious. Next year....well let's just say, I have my list started.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Just Vegging

Variety of Tomatoes from the Garden
Finally!! Summer arrived here in Nova Scotia two weeks ago. We've had hardly a hint of rain since (except for today))); the sea warmed up to seventy'ish, and the days unfolded hot and perfect. Such Bliss for the bones and the spirit. Blogging simply got pushed to the side, as did a lot of "should do" jobs and you know, they can always wait. Autumn is right over the next hill and coming on much quicker than I want it to.

The last few sunny days have encouraged the tomatoes to ripen fast. Tasmanian Chocolates were one of the earliest, but for our climate or perhaps with all the rain, they didn't live up to the flavor or texture I had expected. The Woodle Orange are wonderful, delicious and a good hand size, but not unblemished like the photo on the seedpack ;-). OSU Blue.... also beautiful and prolific. Not boring as I have read, at least not here in our garden of quick draining and acid soil...more robust than expected, and even more so, used in a salsa when just about ripe...tart, tangy and firm, with a good zing.

The earliest tomatoes were Sungold cherry, Super Eary Latah and Mexico Midget. The latter's name applies to the size of the tomato (think blueberry)...not to the size of the plant which has climbed to about ten feet. A real plus, according to the Chief, is their dainty size fruit which continue to ripen even at the lower branches. He checks regularly for red ones.... just the right size to pick off and eat.
Finally, having four days of sunshine in a row, the deck got stained. Thank heaven! I was beginning to despair of it ever getting finished; just a light driftwood grey, but it makes all the difference. Now we can get the furniture back on, and have our 'last of the summer' meals outdoors.
The mosquitoes have been a bit fierce know, those big ones with the striped legs that come from the sea grass along the water...but a few cold nights should knock them back. In the meantime, the Captain has been taking care of us ladies when we go out on the picnic boat.
"Cheers to the Captain"...pats to the Chief!