Sunday, December 23, 2012


There's a soft dusting of snow outside, just enough to make it truly feel like Christmas. We've set some lights in the garden to show its bones at night and as I sit here and type at the pine kitchen table looking out, the sky is black; stars sparkle overhead. It's a Good King Wenceslas night; the snow lies "crisp and even". Almost time to celebrate a most holy day, the end of the year and this growing season.

The past few months I have not been able to blog regularly. This might go on for a bit but hopefully, this journal will become more active again. The garden is sleeping fairly well, but not totally tucked in. Ten degrees yesterday..imagine! We are still cutting from the raised bed with the cold frame cover and also harvesting some from under the row cover inside the garden fence. It's getting to be slim pickings though. This from yesterday:
Tatsoi, kale, variety of lettuce, garlic greens, arugula
A highlight of 2012 was having our garden in Niki Jabbour's wonderful book, "The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener". I hope you get this from Santa! If I have learned anything from her book and my experience, it would be.."get better organized". We'll see...will try!

Have a wonderful Red, White and Green Christmas. Thank you for following Gardeningbren, for encouraging, sharing and commenting. Our family wishes you and yours, a most peaceful holiday season.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Oh for a Quince Tree

Although garden envy isn't becoming, the truth is, I am seriously coveting my girlfriend's Quince Tree. She's had it about five years now, and in late autumn, when I visit, that tree is absolutely loaded with fruit.

Wisely sited just outside her dining room window, it's a central focal point lasting for months, a feast for the eyes in anticipation of the harvest. Biblical in it's beauty, fruit hang; golden baubles reminding me of a painting, Medieval, a Maid stroking a Unicorn, resting beneath it. I can almost see it.
Photo courtesy of the gardeners
I shouldn't be envious however, as each year, a generous gift is given, an abundance of quince heartily shared. Naomi waits until they start to fall to the ground, a signal of ripeness.

If you have never felt, smelled, eaten or seen a quince, the sole member of the genus Cydonia, that wouldn't surprise me. Here where we are in Nova Scotia, Zone 5/6, not many people grow quince trees and part of the reason is, you don't often see them available in nurseries. The fruit, shaped much like a pear, is covered in a soft down when they are immature, but even then, if you pick them and bring inside, you won't believe the fragrance. A bowl full of ripe Quince can in fact, be overwhelming to the nostrils.  It reminds me of orange blossom, which is perhaps why it marries so well baked in orange syrup with orange flower water. Then there is the problem of its texture...they are hard as rocks and so must be cooked. I expect in Mediterranean climes they might ripen to an edible state outdoors but not here. The best way I have found to soften quince...the easiest to prick the quince, wrap each fruit in foil, stand them all together like soldiers in a casserole dish, and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees. You don't want them turned to mush so getting them to the right soft firmness is important...firm like an uncooked apple or pear. The recipe I use is from Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook..a treasure. "Baked Quinces in Orange Syrup" awesome!
Another recipe from Sarah Raven's in the same book, is Windfall Apple and Quince Cake which she notes is a Montagu and Sarah Don recipe. Instead however, of going through the trouble of peeling, coring and chopping quinces (need a cleaver for that), I substitute 1/2 to 3/4 cup of my Baked Quince in Orange Syrup (above), stir in gently, bake, and stand by for the applause. I skimped on the almonds below but next time won't. It should be totally covered.
Quince are considered sacred to the Goddess of Love and Fertility, and some scholars believe in fact, it was not an apple but a quince, Eve offered to Adam. The fruit of Love. Well see, I told you I was coveting it. Sinful yes...ah love, ah Quince!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn Greetings!

We've adjusted to the change of season quite nicely, although the bulk of any garden work get's accomplished on the weekends. Our aim every year, is to have the garden to bed by Remembrance Day which is November 11th here in Canada. I will miss the patio furniture, with it's bright orange cushions, and miss the rich red and orange flowers that drew my eye with interest. But for now, it is surprising how many blooms are still around, even a late iris and a few Azalea flowers. They don't seem to know this is not the time of year they should be in bloom.

If you are like me, and struggle to find late autumn interest in your garden here are a few that are doing well.
Perennial Red Bistort, or Persicaria amplexica "Firetail" has always done well for me. It can be invasive in a warmer zone but here in our Nova Scotia garden, it just manages to get through the winter and gives a long show of bloom. Other Persicaria can be real runners so I would advise not all are created equal and the infamous Knotweed is in this family. Firetail has been in bloom for at least two months only now showing a touch of cold weather damage.
Another plant that has really shone this year is an annual, a red salvia from Sweet Valley Herbs, 'Salvia elegans'; they have it listed as Pineapple Sage. It has not slowed down at all and I hope I can overwinter one of these as their webpage states this can be brought in and used as a houseplant.
Also blooming is a good flush of Stella d'Oro daylily, another stalwart in the garden. After it's initial bloom in spring, I pull out the tatty folliage, and new fresh green grows. This can be effectively used as an edging around a bed; I have also seen chives used like that.

Then, there's the autumn show of leaves! Below is the path coming up to the back yard, before stepping through the arbour. We have a small deck off this side of the house which gives a good vantage point for photographing.
These are what I call full season interest plants.  The Viburnum tomentosum 'Shasta' is the wonderful red burgundy at the top of the photo, underplanted with cotoneaster and in the foreground is Pieris 'Valley Valentine' which is covered with the bloom sprays for next year. You might note some branches on the Viburnum are upright. A few years back, during a heavy snowfall, the shrub developed a break in the main stem. It recovered but since then, it tries to revert to a more upright shrub which is not the habit of Shasta. Each spring I survey it closely and trim off any branches that are not in keeping with it's form. Guess I missed a few.

This past weekend we trimmed back what was initially thought to be a small shrub, Acer ginnala, the amur maple. Well it isn' is a small tree and so another purchase where I didn't pay enough attention to the growth size. I am sure I am not alone in making mistakes like that.

"So much more light" the garden says! "Thank you."

Hope you are enjoy these Golden Glowing beautiful days of Autumn because sadly, all too soon, they will be gone. Won't use the "S" word just yet ;-) but it's coming soon.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Giving Thanks

Scary spooky wonderfully scented black velvet nights!  

Bright ripe orange pumpkins are glowing on porches across Nova Scotia; Howard Dill's legacy thrives around here. He was the man made famous when he developed "Dill's Atlantic Giant" pumpkin which kind of made us all a bit famous in Nova Scotia to growers around the world. Do you know they race pumpkins on Lake Pisiquid in Windsor, Nova Scotia next week (Windsor is where Howard Dill developed the giant pumpkin)? Yup.. they hollow them out and race them, this year on October 14th! Check it out.

Meanwhile I shiver in fear of that first killer frost. It will surely come but so far amazingly, not even a light frost to taint the garden. Leaves on trees along the highways are turning their beautiful autumn shades, and closer to home, bean leaves are showing more purple, rhodos red and viburnum rusty orange. The garden is a damp and glorious thing.
There are other maturing changes in the garden. Satomi dogwood trees are fruiting large red berries which almost immediately disappear, robbed by squirrels. So, I decided to hang a small wind chime in the tree closest to the house and when it tinkles, I rush outdoors like someone possessed, clapping my hands..shoo shoo! I so want to enjoy the view of those luscious red berries standing up on their strong stems for a few more weeks. Fighting a loosing battle I expect. Everywhere critters are laying in winter groceries.
The garden is in her autumn finery, witchy colors of purple and black, deep browns, sienna, gold and burgundy. In contrast, the Cochicums are flouncing spring crocus color through the dying spent perennials and it looks odd, yet comforting. It says to me, spring is just steps away...take heart.
Earth may be in her autumn moistness but, there is rebirth too...seeds being disbursed, planted now. Following mother nature's cue, it's a good time to scatter poppy seeds, nicotiana, verbena bonariensis and morning glory. We have had all of these in the garden for a long time thankfully, growing from the seeds that fell from the mother plants the year before.
Which brings me to my thoughts about being thankful. It is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, a time of vegetable garden abundance, sharing with friends and family and taking time to make a mental list of all we are thankful for. I have been thinking about how my garden blog has enriched my life and thinking also about folks I have 'met' along the way via the internet. Like good compost, the dialogue builds, layer after layer and before you know it, friendship grows. One person I connected with, through his blog writing is Mark Charlton. He has a special, honest and sincere writing gift, and his first publication touched me dearly.
Counting is what life is all about isn't it, journeys through life, landscape, friendship, motherhood, fatherhood. Going forward, step by step, to dream, to remember, to mature, and for me, being able to garden another year and be thankful I can.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, with a special thank you to Mark and his beautiful and inspiring gift..."Counting Steps". (Available via his blog or Amazon)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

So, Autumn Begins

No complaints here about summer being over and autumn beginning. Since mid August, we've started to pay more attention to what needs doing if we want to extend our season. There's still lots to be done in the next few weeks, mostly though, the veg beds are growing along. To catch you up on what we are eating...most especially, a lot of beans...cold, hot, sautéed, steamed, you name it. One of my favourite ways to serve furry Scarlet Runner beans is to French them with my handy dandy Bean Slicer and Stringer. It cost five dollars at the Paderno Store in Halifax, and has made me a big fan. Each bean is pushed through the opening and pulled out the other side.
It takes seconds, meanwhile the stings are trimmed off either side, and the beans are evenly cut which makes good sense for cooking. Here is a bowl already sliced.
After that, they go into boiling salted water. When the water comes back to boil, I time them for two minutes, then drain and serve. I call them my green bean noodles, served with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, a drop or five of toasted sesame oil and splash of tamari. Simple yet delicious, hot or cold.
The salad greens that were planted out in the raised bed, have taken off. We put the cold frame cover over them two days ago, as we have had some very heavy rains and they were getting flattened and dirty. They are looking much happier now. We hope not to have frost for a number of weeks yet, but one never knows so it was time anyway, to put the cover on.
Lastly, we refreshed the kitchen garden winter bed with compost, and some hardy seeds were scattered in a few spots hopefully germinating as I write. *yes, radish are up! The bed still contains beets, carrots, kale, maturing lettuce and well picked over chard.
Here is a sampling of some of the seeds planted out in the raised bed with cold frame cover and the kitchen garden bed under the row cover.
Fingers crossed, the weather holds for awhile yet. We have semi-dwarf Westlandse kale in both beds. It has been fantastic, so soft and delicious...from William Dam Seeds Ltd. I would like to recommend it not only for it's manageable size but it's tender silvery green leaves. The packet says it prefers sandy loam..that's us!! We will see how hardy it is through the winter but I expect just as hardy as most kales in our area zone 5-6 here in Nova Scotia on the South Shore.

Friday, September 7, 2012

From Plot to Plate

This summer I had to rely on my local Hubbards farm market here in Nova Scotia, to supply us with salad greens on occasion, because either I had not planted the seeds on time, or when planted, they were not happy to germinate in the heat. Or.... they would germinate, just get growing and would be munched. Otherwise, we satisfied ourselves with red and green beet leaves, chard, baby kale, zuchinni, cucumber and others that do much better in the heat, but now, with the cool nights and crisp clean air of autumn around us, arugula and red oak leaf lettuce are coming into their own. The above were planted a few weeks ago way at the back in front of the bean wall, and this time, I tried covering the patch, after seeding, with a length of white fleece/horticultural cover. I thought this would help protect against insects, provide shade and help keep the moisture in.  It worked...strong germination and a great cut and come again garden for salads.

So... last week, I decided to plant the entire front raised bed with greens that will eventually be covered with the cold frame lid that sits on top over the winter. I have had really good success with extending my season by doing this. Already the following have germinated..tatsoi, mesculin mix, mizuna, mache, spinach, Winter Marvel lettuce and Juno carrot, one of Mark Cullen's new seed choices (available everywhere at Home Hardware). Again, I covered the bed with the white fleece, also known as Remay, and will continue to do that if the days seem too hot or even too wet. We had torrential rain the other day and I am sure the fleece kept the seeds from being pounded out of the earth.

The carrots won't mature this year...they will be my spring carrots next year..or early summer... assuming they make it through the winter. Last year, carrots had germinated quite late inside the fenced garden, and stayed alive under a cover of Remay, then straw and then, the plastic hoop covers over that. (This worked for beets also.)When spring came, they took off growing and we had carrots very early.

The raised bed behind this front one, was planted with seeds three days ago; you can see, I have the white fleece laid over it, tucked in around some bean plants still cropping, arugula and the cucumber plants that I must say, have done very well. I always lament I can't grow cucumbers to save my soul, but this year, they have proven me wrong!

So we are back to harvest time salads, enjoying again, the fruits of our labours. We keep it simple and let the leaves shine.... a nice vinegar to frisk up the flavor is probably all that's needed....mmmm...keepin' it local!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tomato Tasting

Considering the blight, and the fact that many tomatoes had to be picked green, those not affected continued to ripen indoors and out. So I thought about that Tomato Tasting I attended at Annapolis Seeds last year and....well....couldn't I do that too, on a smaller scale. So here you have it, a photo from my first annual tomato tasting event! Thanks girlfriends, for sharing today, it was great fun.

Not as many varieties as hoped for this year...on know. But, just the same, the taste of those we tried were in fact, complicated, smoky, sweet, tart, robust and more. Just six to sample but what a difference in flavor and texture each one possessed. Starting from the top of the white plates on either side, we have Paul Robeson, Speckled Roman, Costoluto, German Gold and Black Plum. Hands down for our taste, we loved the German Gold best. It was ripening from the inside which is why the skin is lime green, but wow, such a rich deep delicious tomato. We've grown these for a few years, and I am so grateful I was able to harvest some. Tomatoes really do ripen from the inside out, as you can see. Paul Robeson and Black Plum were both complex, with that sort of smoky, wine/fermented flavor that's so different from the usual red tomatoes. Black Plum was more intense though (considered a cherry tomato but more a small purple paste size). Both are definitely worth growing again (Annapolis Seed) especially as both have a high yield and seemed to have some resistance to the blight. Also, they last well on the counter in a bowl for a long time (I like my tomatoes warm or room temperature).

Costoluto Genovese is sweetly intense however think mine were smallish compared to others I have seen. (Likely the grower's fault that is!!) Speckled Roman was a bit bland but it's a paste tomato mostly, although it can be an eating one as well. It didn't stand up to the tough heirloom competition but it is fantastic as a cooking tomato. Mexico Midget didn't enter the taste test but should have been there. This is a vigourous grower and if you don't have room for it, leave it off. However, if you have a trellis going into your garden, (imagine this) it can be just as creative to grow as Morning glory..or both together..that would be fun. I have mine trellising at the garden entry with 'North Shore' sweet peas although the sp's aren't in bloom YET! Photo to follow hopefully.

Meanwhile, (have to share) we were delighted to share our garden with the readers of Garden Making in their latest edition. Thanks to all the folks there who were so generous with their time and efforts, helping the garden shine in their publication. "Is that our garden" I thought!! Goodness. Special thanks to James, Heather and Beckie and most especially to Niki Jabbour, who inspires me further with her book, Year Round Vegetable Gardener.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beans and Blight

Well, for the good news first. We have been harvesting some lovely beans, which, although a little difficult to get growing, are finally showing their stuff!! The pole bean varieties are Fortex and Blauhilde, the latter a particularly deep blue purple. I prefer them over Purple Podded because I find Blauhilde more tender but not as prolific. I also love how they look winding their way up the pole support and with a few Painted Lady Runner Beans to liven the floral presentation...the hummingbirds are in heaven.
We are also harvesting some tomatoes, mostly the Costuloto Genovese, with their beautiful ribbed fruit and great flavor. They've been a tidy plant to grow, not taking over, averaging about fifteen tomatoes per plant. In fact they have done better than most being rather resistant so far to the tomato blight that has swept through the garden. Early blight I have experience with, but this blight, which I feel sure is known as late blight...swept through in just a few days, like a flame thrower attack, the leaves totally withered and died... so quickly, I was overwhelmed. It is unusual to have this in our area, and others are reporting it as well. The combination of a wonderful hot summer, and then August rain and fog, seems to be the culprit. Here are a few photos of what it looks like here....

It was with a heavy heart, I removed many of the tomato plants. Bagged for incineration by the municipality, they are now disposed of. Gardening is full of ups and downs, but I must say, this truly took the wind out of my sails. Will keep on the positive side of things though, and that's all one can do.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Early August Update

Moving right along...well here it is August already!  We began with some much needed rain as the end of July had been very dry. All open fires are banned in fact, so our firepit is getting no use, except to be filled with garden debris...not a pretty sight. The sun came out today, and I can almost feel the garden perk in it's gratefulness, blooms straightening up to kiss the sky. The daylilies are in their prime, although those spent are like sodden hankies and need plucking off.
Variety of daylilies, Persicaria Firetail to the right, clematis growing on fence.
Still, I can't believe it's August, even though the tomatoes tell me so. They've had a bit of blight hit them...not much, but enough that if I don't get on it today, snipping off lower leaves, the whole thing might get out of hand. Mulching underneath with newspaper and straw has, over the past two years, made a big difference but some varieties are more susceptible. This must be the case with Amish Paste as it is the worst hit and yet, it is in a prime spot. Go figure. Carrots and other crops are starting to make it to the table, which on rainy days, we like roasted in the oven, bit of rosemary, olive oil, hunks of garlic....lovely.
Carrots, onions, red and white beets.
Can you see our steps in the background of this photo above? When we started the garden, thirteen years ago, the back yard was a huge plot of stony dirt, with a white gravel patch where you could park a car, at the foot of where the steps are today. When I think back over the years, and the soil we made, and brought in, collectively, it seems a lifetime. But we knew even then, we wanted to see the garden from our kitchen window, and not have to walk far to gather food for supper.

I'm working outside today, so will give an update on what's growing in the veg garden shortly and in the raised beds. The bean tepees, you can just see them off center in right of the above photo, have the vines right to the top now, and are showing a variety of flowers. Meanwhile just off the deck, the tall purple flowering Verbena bonariensis, and the hugely fragrant Nicotiana 'Jasmine Alata' from Renee's Garden Seeds, are popular with the hummingbirds. The Nicotiana  pumps out perfume from late afternoon into the evening. Can't ever be a better annual to bring scent to a night garden.

Time to get my hands dirty.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Meet Susan Delafield

She's quite tall, this beauty, her scape with bloom just brushing my cheek as I move in for a closeup photo.....slim, willowy, with rather large cloves growing under the soil. It's the first year she's been here, but hopefully, not the last. I would like you to meet, Susan Delafield.
Susan Delafield lounging by the firepit.

Boundary Garlic  describes this garlic variety as one of their hottest and most flavorful porcelains, growing tall, producing large bulbs and more tolerant of wet conditions than others. Well, even with the scape left on, this grew a larger than normal sized bulb and I am terrifically pleased with the results. The bulbils are just forming in the scape, uniquely beautiful. Here are two photos to compare this Porcelain with a Racombole. There are more lovely photos on the Boundary site and at Henry's Photos.
Susan Delafield, Porcelain Garlic, not yet matured to flower.

Unknown Rocombole Variety

The Rocomboles I have, are an unknown variety, a gift about thirteen years ago when I started the garden. In fact, until two years ago, I didn't grow garlic "properly". We just harvested the bubils using them when fresh and crispy as they are now (perfect for sprinkling on anything that loves garlic).  In the fall, we dug the baby rounds out of the damp soil, and froze them for winter use. I still maintain a nursery bed of garlic which continues to reseed year after year. It gets out of hand some years but, I wouldn't be without it. The bulbils, if left to their own devices, dry on the stem, drop to the ground, root and grow on. Sort of like Egyptian Walking can have them for life ;-)

For now, I've started curing the harvested bulbs, in cool dry shade inside the summerhouse and elsewhere. There's a breeze blowing through so it should be fine, otherwise, we can put a fan there to help. I did read online that you could crack/bend the stem which would speed up the curing and I have done that to some of mine for comparison. Any comments regarding that ( and all comments of course) would be appreciated.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini Time!

You know, we don't eat a lot of zucchini in our family so why grow more than one plant? Well, often it's better to plant three seeds in case two don't germinate; or, a few volunteers appear early in spring, filling in the garden, looking lush and healthy. If you are like me, you can't pull them out! Before you know it, July arrives; friends and family are hiding because they do not want any more of your blessed zucchini and Aunt Gina's zucchini chocolate cake starts sticking in your throat. You've made enough curry zucchini soup for the winter, and yes, you've been told there's a variety that has a nutty flavor but it grows football size too!!! Well hide no more because, there's a great zucchini out there for you and for me.

The above blooms are "Cucurbita pepo" Baby Round Zucchini (Summer Squash). In France it is known as Ronde de Nice. Love how that rolls off the tongue! "The unique flower attachment is perfect for edible flower use", so says seed company Botanical Interests, but for my table, we just love this little round golf ball size vegetable picked fresh from the garden.
Here's the good news, it won't grow to basketball size! Yeah! I've noticed if I miss picking one, it starts to yellow and then falls off or I pull it off. Now is that not truly monsters under the leaves, and a perfectly beautiful civilized size for a salad, steaming or baking. I prefer these raw, the taste delicate and crunchy. You probably won't find these Heirlooms in the grocery store, as they bruise easily and don't transport well, but heh, anyone can grow zucchini..right!! Give these a try.

I am saving...almost, the best for last. This plant looks fantastic in the garden. Mine (yes I grew two)))), are directly opposite the garden gate so they are the first plants your eyes alight on...mostly because of it's architecture. The leaves are deeply lobed, silvery green, almost sage like in color. In fact they match the new stain on the back bean wall....not planned, honest!! They would be fantastic in a planter come to think of it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

July Garden Update

We've been picking our first tomatoes, tiny blueberry size Mexico Midget although the above photo makes them look GIANT! This vine is hidden behind the fence, just inside the garden gate, where I have hopes it will climb to the top of the arbour. It's very vigorous this little wild like tomato with ferny leaves and a mind of it's own. We have also tried Chiapis Wild but so far, no fruit from that. The other tomato plants are doing marvellously as our weather has been prime for Every year I say I am cutting back on the number of T plants we grow but this year, I had an idea to put a few in the compost green bin (which grew such great pumpkins last year when I discarded them in the pile). And yes, the three plants in there have taken off...they are the Chiapis.... sprawlers.
This year, I also potted up two deep containers with tomato transplants, trellised on those wire squiggly things and kept them in the summerhouse. Moved outside about a week ago, they continue to grow well (and a fair bit ahead of those transplanted out much earlier). There's one pot on either side of the summerhouse window containing Cour di Bue and Black Plum. There might be others in there, with lola tags (lost label).

At the back of the garden, we are trellising tomatoes again this year. I tie jute to the lattice, top to bottom and wrap around the stems as they grow. Some of the garlic are back there as well; those tall scapes left for a sculptural focal point are my chin height.

Regarding the garlic, last year, when I pulled mine out, the cloves were sort of separating;and I thought the reason was, I had not dug them out but yanked them out ;-) in my excitement. But today at the Hubbards Market, a farmer from Windsor had garlic for sale. I commented on how beautiful they were and I didn't expect them to be available so soon. She went on to say, they are ready now because they found last year, they left them too long and the cloves started to separate. A light bulb moment. So I came home and dug up a few....perfect! So think mine are getting dug up tomorrow, those that have the lower leaves yellow for sure. These are two big'uns dug out to test, today.

And do you see to the left, that little shrub bean plant...unknown seed, obtained from dried beans my neighbour had left growing in his garden. Well, they happen to be the first beans we are going to eat..tonight with supper (excepting for the fava which are a totally different kind of bean in my mind))). Thanks Q.
Q's French Filet beans growing well

I'll try to blog more often now that things are really starting to produce. There's the baby round zucchini I need to tell you about....