It’s finally time to plant! Spring warmth has been slow coming to the Maritimes this year and because of the abnormally high temperatures last March and April the stubborn chill has been particularly noticable. The lack of warmth has not deterred the garlic, planted last Fall, which is poking up through the mulch with great enthusiasm. Daffodills are just flowering, which must seem like a bit of a joke to other parts of this great land where they’ve already bloomed and died off. Living here (east coast of Nova Scotia) simply requires a slight shift in perception, an understanding and acceptance that things, just about all things, come later. No need to get impatient . . . but of course I do. Who am I trying to fool!
Lobster season is well under way and the morning bird song is backed by the steady drone of Cape Islanders bringing home the day’s catch. A feed of lobster is a two minute walk away but in truth, being so close to the source has made us somewhat ambivalant about such treats. Actually, eggs in every conceivable form are presently topping the menu, given the mountain of eggs coming into the kitchen on a daily basis.
And then, there’s The Giant Parsnip. I discovered this guy the other day while uncovered my raised beds for some early seeding. He was over sixteen inches long and surprisingly not at all ‘woody’. Here he is gently steamed, then breaded in Panko crumbs and served on a bed of arugula from the cold frame (sweated in a little balsamic vinegar and drizzled with maple syrup) along with some spicy pickled carrots and pickled beets from last season. And, of course, eggs. Pickled ones this time! Eating local can mean tasty, even at this time of year!
Parsnips aren’t a super popular vegetable for home gardens, perhaps because they are slow and erratic to germinate but they are prodigious seed producers, so there’s plenty of seed to save. They are biennials; they only produce seed in their second year and it’s important to note that the seed is only good for one year. I think these two reasons, slow germination and outdated seed, might have given parsnips a bad rap, but in fact they are easy enough to grow, are rugged and very tasty, especially when touched with frost . . . or over-wintered as I’ve just discovered. When saving seed it’s important to think ahead, to tag and leave a couple of roots in the ground when harvesting in the Fall. The seed heads are quite attractive, looking a lot like giant dill plants and easy to gather. But enough about parsnips….
I’ve been planting early greens such as spinach, tatsoi, chard and lettuce in the raised beds. Foolishly I had left one bed unmulched through the winter and it had already sprouted a substantial crop of deep rooted dandelions needing to be pulled. The other beds, that had been covered with straw through the winter, were so much easier to deal with. Just a matter of moving back the straw to find beautiful, friable soil all ready to plant. I also planted carrots, beets, parsnips and radishes. Perhaps a little early for carrots but I expect they’ll be okay. I have peas planted and I’m sure they’ll be fine as they like it cool but the ground is definitely too cold for beans yet. . . except for broad beans which don’t seem to mind the cold ground and definitely need the extra time to mature.
Broad beans are the most ungainly plants which need a solid frame to support them. I’ve learnt the hard way to have that frame in place before I plant the beans. If I don’t force myself to have the frames in place before I plant I know I’ll leave it too late and end up wrestling a matt of mammoth plants that have fallen on top of the rest of my crop. Peas aren’t as cumbersome or clumsy but they will tangle tightly around each other, making it hard to train them upwards on strings or trellis. I’ve done enough damage to the tender, quite brittle pea-vines to know that I must install the support, which in my garden is four by eight foot sheets of reinforcing mesh, before I plant the peas. I don’t allow myself to ‘do it soon but not now’ because I know that my sooner is always later . . . most often too late. Forcing myself to learn by my mistakes is hard; a lot like herding cats, I believe.
The resident slug patrol, ducks who have not been segregated for breeding purposes, have been hard at work for several weeks now and although I hesitate to say it, I have not seen a single slug yet. Yeah! Slugs were my nemesis for many years and in fact got us wandering along the Permaculture Path to begin with. First step was the acquisition of some chickens, who despite what we had been told to the contrary, flatly refused to eat slugs. However, we were delighted to discover that slugs are to ducks as chocolate is to chocoholics. We have Khaki Cambell and Indian Runner ducks, both of which are excellent layers. Duck eggs contain more protein than chicken eggs and professional bakers prefer them for baking. I like them simply for their rich, buttery taste. Ducklings are also the cutest of all the hatchlings we incubate but the drakes are brutal lovers and by about the third week of mating season I’ve grown tired of running out with a broom to rescue some poor duck in distress. We usually have to load up on Polysporin eye drops because the drakes peck at the females around the eyes and force them down by pecking at their heads. Those ladies who attract the most ‘action’, (and although all ducks look a lot alike to us some are obviously considered to be ‘babes’ by the drakes) are practically bald around the head and neck by the end of mating season. They don’t seem to mind all the attention they get but I’m glad when it’s all over.
Perhaps the corollary to the aphorism about needing to break eggs to make an omelette states that you can’t have eggs without losing a few feathers, spoken with a ducky dialect of course. Even though the constant influx of eggs can seem a little overwhelming at times, espescially as they greet me every morning by the basket full all needing to be scrubbed clean, I am quick to remind myself how thrilled we were with that very first egg, not so many years ago. Eggs are amazing; such a perfect food, so versatile, so cleverly packaged and so symbolic of the great promise this wonderful world has for those of us who care to put in the time to tend and nurture it.