Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Strong Roots

A wild day on the Bras D'or... 'Going home'
The drive from the South Shore here in Nova Scotia, to my sister's home on Cape Breton Island takes about six hours...six long hours to think about a lot of things. We grew up in a Melting Pot of cultures; a place where immigrants gathered to work at the Steel Plant, hoping to build a new life for themselves and their children. Back then, most of our neighbours had a back yard garden, as did my dad for awhile. He'd bring big bags of tomatoes into the house, grown well despite the ore dust that sometimes covered them...trace elements of iron perhaps contributed to their robustness.

I was thinking about my deep roots still pulling me home, thinking that no matter where I've gone in my life, and no matter what I've accomplished, I will always be, not a Nova Scotian, but a Cape Bretoner. I was thinking about the immigrant experience and how it shaped our lives, we the seeds that were planted on that island, growing, like our early garden transplants, sometimes without much encouragment, too little fertilizer, too little rain. Working parents, like gardeners, trying their best to nurture us to bloom.

Some of the strongest influences came from the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Italian and Polish in our community. Each culture brought their own seeds of diversity. As I spend my January and February days leafing through Seed catalogues, making decisions about what I think might grow best here in our sandy quick draining soil, I can't help but be drawn to the old heirloom varieties, seeds, like my ancestors, that have survived for hundreds of years against all odds. As I read, I am remembering the food of our Cape Breton community, the celebrations of our ethnic population, shared church suppers, New Year's Eve dinners and dances at the Ukrainian hall among many fond memories. We grew up to respect what we had grown ourselves, not as some thought, you must be poor if you have to grow it and can't buy it. They didn't understand and some still do not understand. "Why do you grow that when you can just go out and buy it" a friend asked. How can you answer that? It would take generations of words to reply.

Anyway, a long drive gives you lots of time to think. It's not always easy going back home. Sometimes the journey is about a funeral, a sick family member ....sometimes a difficult circumstance one doesn't want to face. A highlight of this journey however, was my sister's 50th birthday and as we say in Cape Breton.."what a time it was".

Our roots run deep. We're planted, we grow, sometimes we make it to adulthood, sometimes not. Like the seeds we try to germinate and nourish, it's not always a happy ending. But, this weekend was and so to you dear sister, Happy Wonderful Joyous Fantastic Birthday and many many more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pea Results

They started out well; peas intensely planted, grown for their shoots. The variety, Dwarf Sugar, Canada No. 1 Select, grew legs practically overnight.... long long legs...lots of stem and not enough leaf. Those leaves were closed as well, like clover in your lawn when evening comes round. Did I ever notice that in peas before? "Most leguminous plants do close their leaves in the evening" I read, but this pea variety seemed to keep them closed all day. Now, I just wonder why...too cool this time of year next to the window and perhaps not enough sun? I will try them again, in a better location, because I am pretty sure that was the problem.
Delicious, yes... but, compared to last year's Garnish Type, Dwarf Grey Sugar, (photo below) from Johnny's Selected Seeds, they could only compare in taste, not presentation. The legginess wasn't an issue really, but I would have preferred larger leaves like these below. Still, I think both attempts were a success, and even better, I learned something.
Hope you get a chance to give this a try. It's fun and easy and quite a little miracle happens right before your eyes. Now where are those Mung beans I was planning to sprout?

Note: Do not sprout Ornamental Sweet Peas grown for their beautiful blooms and fragrance, as they are poisonous.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Of Shoots and Other Things

Last year, we had great success with growing pea shoots to use in salads and sandwiches, so.... armed with more knowledge (sometimes a dangerous situation ;-), I've also decided to try broad (fava/windsor) beans. Apparently, the greens taste just like the beans....delicious.
Ready to be filled with compost; Wee be Little pumpkin supervising.
After filling the pots, the entire surface was covered with the overnight soaked peas and beans and gently covered with more compost. Stand by for further photos in a week or so. You can read how it worked last year, here.

Also started two long trays of greens, a variety of lettuces from The Cooks Garden as well as early sprouting green onions, and baby garlic collected from our garlic scapes. Do you think that might keep the white fly off the new lettuce, inter planting this way? Hope so, as white fly in the summerhouse has been a problem in the past.

I've also become quite inspired by "Pot It, Grow It, Eat It" and would recommend it not only for this time of year here in Nova Scotia, when we want to grow a few things in pots on our windowsill or a greenhouse, but it makes great reading for anyone who would like to make the switch from growing annuals or perennials in pots and would like to try their hand at food growing instead. The book, by Kathryn Hawkins, encourages readers to think outside the box... grow Rhubarb, root vegetables, salad greens, fruit trees and more. There's a 'quick potted guide' for each plant... type and size of container recommended, when to plant, where to site the pots, soil requirements and harvest time. She also addresses maintenance and possible problems, so along with the photos and the recipe section on how to use your fresh grown harvest, it really is a great book to have on hand, especially if one doesn't have a back yard. Pots are certainly the answer and this time of year, going through seed catalgues, you can plan your patio or driveway garden.
It has been snowing on and off since Christmas but so far, it doesn't seem to stay for very long. This means, we've still been able to pick greens from the raised bed/cold frame. Although hardly growing, they hold their own under protection. Niki Jabbour, in her new book "The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener", mentions cold frames being in ground refrigerators and that is so true. The greens above are arugula, (the wild and not so wild), a bit of mache, mizuna, oh yes, and a little bit of spinach. Although it was 9 C. below today, and snowing as I type, it is expected to go up to 9 C. above tomorrow. That should allow for a nice fresh winter salad picked for supper, until the pea and bean shoots are ready.
Chickadee and Goldfinch brighten the winter garden

Monday, January 2, 2012

Starting the New Year with Fireworks and Hope

First Fire of the New Year!! A glass of Prosecco (thanks Liz for the introduction), gloves dirty after a day playing in the garden and tidying the summerhouse. What's with this weather?

We ended 2011, as many Maritimers do, with lobster, fresh caught, just off our own shores .. $5.50 a lb. The Cap does the cracking, making it much easier to eat at the table...a little melted butter, a dish of vinegar  for dipping; that's how we like it.

Thanks Wayne for staying open long enough for all your neighbours to have the best New Year's eve dinner ever!

Lobster is almost a Holy food in our house. Not only have relatives and neighbours made a living fishing them, but when in season, it is the celebratory food of special days. Here on the South Shore, the lobster season opened the beginning of December and so far, the weather has been very favorable.

As a child, we were not given any of the succulent parts to eat like the claws and tails. Us kids got the legs..you know..the skinny, hardly any meat in them legs. I guess we had to prove we appreciated those meagre bits before being graced with a claw..soft, juicy and delicious. The tail, which is always a bit tougher, held more meat but to this day, we always favor claws the best. When we grew to adults you learned to take apart the main body and eat the sweetest meats in there before discarding any part.  I sometimes reduce the shells even further, for broth. One doesn't waste lobster! A few years back, someone realized the potential of all those shells and started grinding them and selling to the garden market.

Did you know lobsters do not thrive on Canada's west coast?  How I missed my maritime feasts when we lived on Saltspring Island in British Columbia.....Christmas wasn't Christmas without lobster.

So today, the second day of the New Year, my hopes are very high. The shed has been cleaned out, a good tidy up waiting for leeks to be started and perhaps some greens. Sun streams through the windows, reflecting this bright, optimistic, New Year.

Thank you, so very much, for visiting, following, joining in the conversation, as we start a  Happy New Garden Year together.