Category Archives: Food production/ winter

S’no Joke!

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S’no Joke!

Here’s the latest from Green Grenouille  welcoming committee

Green Grenouille

The Green Grenouille welcoming committee are not impressed by the weather!

Grenouille No.1 – No! I can’t look at any more snow.

Grenouille No.2 – I refuse to listen to any more weather forecasts!

Grenouille No.3 – Oooops! Did I say that out loud?

Outside indeed it still looks like winter but in the cold frame most of the hardy greens are almost ready for harvesting, despite the fact the lid of the frame collapsed during one of the January storms and the little plants spent several weeks crushed and frozen under the tarp. Goes to show just how hardy tat soi, rapunzel, kale, mizuna and arugula really are! In a few weeks they won’t seem half so special but at the moment all these early greens taste A-maz-ing!

Early greens

Tat soi, kale, mizuna and arugula all growing quite happily in a makeshift cold frame

 

I’m always trying new ways to extend my harvest of greens and thought I’d share today’s little venture – planting in eaves trough. I salvaged a couple of pieces of eaves trough from a construction dump last year and cut into four foot lengths they gave me six troughs of a manageable size, approximately the same width as my raised beds. I’ve heard of growing lettuce etc. in eaves troughs but have always been a little skeptical, wondering how much watering is required (daily through the summer months I would imagine) and also how much nutrient needs to be pumped into the soil to sustain healthy growth.

items needed to make an eaves trough planter

Eaves trough cut into manageable (four foot) length, duct tape, old towel and some soil is all that’s needed to plant a row of kale

I’m more interested in starting seedlings in troughs indoors and then transferring them as ready made rows, that will slide smoothly out of the trough and directly into a waiting furrow in the garden. Firstly, I closed off the ends of the trough with duct tape. Coconut coir or cardboard would do just as well, I’m sure. I then cut strips of cloth (I sacrificed an old towel) that measured about a foot longer than the trough, leaving enough to allow for an overhang at each end when the strip of cloth is placed along the bottom of the trough. By doing this I hope to ease the transition from eaves trough to garden bed, causing as little disruption as possible to the roots of the plants by simply pulling on one of the end tabs of cloth and sliding the plug of soil directly into the waiting furrow. After I’ve cut away the duct taped end plugs, of course.

Seedlings ready to be transplanted

Kale seedlings ready to be transferred from a recycled commercial salad mix container into a length of eaves trough

I had seeds already started in the house that I’d seeded way too heavily. I should know better by now but I was not wholly trusting of the seed as it is several years old. I wasn’t sure how viable it would be but I think I got close too one hundred per cent germination. One more plus for kale – the seed is very robust and stores really well! I let the soil around the seedlings dry out, thinking that it would be easier to separate the delicate roots if the soil fell away easily. It did, but of course it could be argued that the tiny plants would already be stressed by this drying out and therefore the untangling of roots would be even more traumatic for them. I’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

I want to start peas in a couple of the troughs and I’m hoping this method will work well for that as well. Stay tuned!

Early spring greens growing in a tractor tire

A salvaged tractor tire set up as a hot box provided weeks of super early spring greens

And of course I’m definitely going to set up another ‘hot box’ in the old tractor tire I found washed up on the beach  a couple of winters ago. Not sure if I wrote about it last year or not, but here’s a quick recap for anyone who might have missed that post – First a layer of hot manure – I used chicken, well covered with a thick (3-4 inches) layer of organic mulch (straw, leaves, seaweed, etc.) This is to keep the roots of the plants from touching the manure, which is used specifically as a heat source and therefore needs to be ‘hot’ –  which also translates as – much too fresh to consider as a source of nutrients at this time.

Tire with some manure

Hot manure is placed in first then topped with protective mulch barrier before soil goes in

I packed the inner core of the tire with seaweed (eel grass to be specific) and then filled the central hole (where the wheel hub would go) with a rich mix of soil and organic nutrients and then I wrapped the tire in plastic sheeting until the seeds were well sprouted and the temperatures had risen. There was snow on the ground when I was doing this and I really didn’t know if I was pushing my luck just a bit but no – in the earliest days of spring I was able to pick salads from this tire, which kept producing phenomenal greens week after week after week.

Tire wrapped in plastic

The tire didn’t look like much at first!

I have had good success with hot box set ups in the cold frames but I think the black rubber of the tire helped intensify both the heating up of the soil and also aided in heat retention. On some really bitter days the temperature of the soil in the tire was usually fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than in the regular garden beds.

 

 

And finally, my new book has arrived! The Food Lover’s Garden is now in stores. The people at New Society Publishers have done a wonderful job and I am delighted with the look of this book. It’s in full color and is quite lavishly illustrated. Thirty of the images are taken from watercolor paintings I did of one of my fave. subjects – vegetables – and the forty some other images are all from pictures I took in one of my fave. places – my garden 🙂

So yes, this book feels quite close to my heart, especially as it’s all about the joys of growing, preparing and eating  good, healthy food. The official launch will be at the Halifax Main Branch Library, April 22nd. at 2.00

The really exciting thing is that all the original paintings, framed, are to be auctioned off on line during the month of May, with all proceeds going to support Soul’s Harbor Rescue Mission and Dartmouth North Community Food Center. Needless to say I’m thrilled to be able to use my art in true permaculture fashion, that is for more than one purpose – to illustrate the Food Lover’s Garden and also to support two organizations which I greatly admire!

Food Lover's Garden bcover

Front Cover of my new book – in stores now

 

 

 

 

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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!

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If I was to ever write my memoires, which I know I never will, the title would have to be: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time! My life path is littered with seemingly brilliant, ultimately disastrous ideas… some more disastrous than others! Fortunately I’ve learnt to pay attention to the warning signs; the clanging bells and flashing lights that I used to ignore when blundering on towards yet another pending catastrophe. But not always 😦

The ‘fedging’ or living fence project I was so excited to share a few months ago is one such of those I-should-have-seen-that-coming ideas. Perhaps by sharing my mistakes I can at least prevent others from following along the same, misdirected path. And before I start to sound too depressed about it, let me say that at least half of the fedges I planted are brilliant. I love them. And in fact one hundred per cent of the fedges are brilliant if we’re just basing their success on growth. This is the problem.

Fedge gateway

This fedge I was so pleased with has turned into a monster

One ‘fedge’ prospered even better than all the others – the one surrounding one of my vegetable plots. And why did it flourish so vigorously? Because it was gobbling all the nutrients that were intended for my crop, in this case potatoes. Potatoes! I mean really, of all the crops to under produce! They need so very little to be happy and usually produce twice our requirements. This year, other than some fingerlings and some blues, which I’m saving for special dinners, we’re already out of spuds.

With subtle slight of hand I’m blaming it on the fedge for stealing every bit of nutrient out of my wonderfully fertile garden plot, although in truth I’m fully responsible, because of course I should have known better. Fedges are wonderfully seductive, and I was lured into thinking solely on how great they’d look and how they’d be just perfect to keep marauding geese out of my garden. To add insult, the tender slips I stuck in the ground mere months ago have grown tenacious roots that have all snarled together forming an impenetrable web. It’s going to take a lot of digging to get them out.

 

Note to self, and to anyone else who’ll listen, only plant fedges along perimeters where you’re sure you’ll never, ever want anything else to flourish. I’m told they have a different but  equally devastating effect on wells, septic systems and foundations. Yikes!

Hands cutting a space into a bale of straw

It’s a lot harder than might be expected to cut holes in a bale of straw!

One thing I’ve been rather down on and I realize unfairly so, is straw bale gardening. I was needing to write a piece on my experience with straw bale beds recently and I realized that everything I had to say was positive. I guess all I’d remembered was how difficult it actually is to cut planting spaces out of a bale of straw. And certainly if other options exist, I’d chose them first. But  on a rock hard surface, in a narrow space, they will provide the opportunity to grow some food.

close up of straw-bale bed

The newly constructed straw bale with planting spaces filled with dirt was planted with sunflowers and cosmos

 

 

Cutting out spaces and filling them with fertile soil mix is essentially creating fully organic planters which will eventually decompose and become soil. That’s what finally happened to mine. After several years of being a straw-bale bed, the straw vanished almost overnight, or so it seemed, and I was left with some very friable, fertile soil.

show a mis of greens growing in dirt

The mix of mache, mizuma and tatsoi thrived well into December in what remains of the straw-bale bed

 

 

A fall crop of winter greens was more than happy to flourish in it and this after it had supported a season of spinach and arugula. Nothing to complain about there.

Seed catalogues are already out and well thumbed. We try to save as much seed as possible, here on QuackaDoodle, but it’s always fun to try at least a couple of new things each year. Definitely no more  Chinese winged beans; they were a once and never again, for us.

jars of salsa verde stacked on counter top

The tomatillos harvest made lots of salsa verde

Tomatillos on the other hand, a big Yes! They produced well and made great salsa verde (but of course they did, as that is what they’re most noted for) but also, they were equally good as a substitute for green tomatoes, in green tomato mincemeat.  One more plus is their appearance – they really are a funky little (and not so little) plant and I love the way each fruit comes individually wrapped in its own paper case.

close up of tomatillo plant

The bees go gaga for the little yellow flowers of the tomatillo plant.

I have sweet potato slips rooting and potted up. Definitely pushing the limits with these and any success will depend on what kind of summer we have this year. A cold wet one like last year will definitely not work for sweet potatoes… or for me either, come to that!

 

cover of Permaculture For The Rest of Us

Permaculture For The Rest of Us ~ Abundant Living on Less than One Acre

My BIG NEWS is that I have been invited to give three presentations at The Mother Earth News Fair in Belton Texas. This all came about because of my recent book, Permaculture For the Rest of Us.

It will be going there with my publisher, New Society Publishers. I’ll finally get to meet some of the people I’ve been working with for a couple of years, but have never actually met. Excited!

snow covered garden

Yesterday the garden looked like this

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was surround with banks of snow but after a night and most of a day of heavy, heavy rain it’s mostly gone and I can see more green than white. Oh joy! My green thumb is starting to twitch already and as soon as I get back from Texas I plan to start seeding my herbs and seriously starting to plan what else needs to be started and when. Around these parts it’s important not to be tricked by a brief respite from winter (today is plus eight!) and start seeding too soon. But it’s never too early to start dreaming, right! 🙂

a long shot of a thriving garden with lots of green growth

today it looks like this… well, perhaps not quite like this 🙂

 

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I think I’ve always had a tendency to dream big. Let’s face it, if the dream is big enough and only half of it comes true, it was still well worth dreaming it. And as for miracles, well I suspect every gardener believes in miracles. The act of putting a few tiny specks of seeds into the ground and watching them grow into food enough to feed the family and half the neighbourhood, that is truly miraculous in my book.

Snow covered garden

Presently the garden looks like a frozen wasteland

Although I’ve been growing food for years now, the process still amazes me and hope it always does. Looking out at the frozen wasteland that is my garden I wonder how it will ever transform into an edible jungle, but I’m dreaming big and trusting in miracles. It’s always worked in the past.

Thevegetable Garden in Spring

Yes it seems miraculous but I believe it won’t be long before the garden looks like this

 

 

 

 

Okay, so perhaps I’ve oversimplified things a bit. There are a few necessary steps involved to help things on their way.

One is planning and this is the best time to begin. Some seeds need to be started very early, ground cherries being one example. I mentioned the bumper harvest we got from just a few plants, in the last post. They’ve stored remarkably well  and recently I discovered that they bake into a wonderful pie. I added raisins (about half and half) but almost no sugar and it was delicious. Just another reason to grow ground cherries and this is where the planning comes in. They need to be started very early in order to produce a harvest, in northern climates at least, and if seed needs to be purchased, now is the time to source it. For some reason it’s not that easy to find, and seldom seen in a typical garden center.

Bowl of Ground Cherries

The last of the Ground Cherry harvest

 

This year we are trying a couple of new things. Plants we’ve never even seen, never mind grown and a couple of these also require an early start. They also require a certain justification in a permaculture plan because the introduction of non-native species is not normally advised. It’s a question of balance, of how to set up a viable food forest in a climate where most nut bearing and many soft-fruit bearing trees won’t survive. We have chosen Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium), Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), Camas (Camassia quamash) and Groundnut (Apios americana), to experiment with. I’m not much for using botanical names but in this case it’s important to be sure you’re getting the right plant. Sea Buckthorn might easily be mistaken for Buckthorn, a highly invasive non-desirable, for instance.

Of course it’s too early to know how well they will perform but I wanted to mention them now in order to give a heads up for others who might be planning to add to or establish their own food forest. Now’s the time to source and acquire seeding stock.

They all sound very exciting! Yellowhorn, a small tree or large shrub originates from Northern China, so I’m thinking it should survive our winters okay. It bears beautiful white flowers in Spring and lime-sized fruit in Summer. The seeds look like chestnuts and taste like Macadamia nuts. I’m sold!

Sea Buckthorn also comes originally from China and Russia. As well as producing remarkably nutritious orange berries it is useful for erosion control in sandy soil. Camas is apparently common on the North West coast and has long been valued by native peoples for its sweet root. It also has an attractive blue flower in Spring.

Groundnut is apparently quite common in Eastern North America, and is in fact a native here, (Nova Scotia) and a traditional carbohydrate source for First Nations Peoples. I, on the other hand had never heard of it until recently, and assuming there might be a few others out there who are similarly unenlightened: it’s vine-like, with underground stems that swell into chains of tubers. These tubers have three times the protein of regular potatoes, and they also serve as a nitrogen fixer. Wow! I love it already.

 

Leek plants in a bucket of shallow dirt

These leeks were thrown in a bucket in the Fall and left, forgotten in the basement.

And from Dreaming back to Reality, as we seem trapped in an endless cycle of blizzards and Nor’easters it’s very satisfying to go into the basement and discover some hastily stored leeks have remained green, along with the parsnips that look as if they were newly dug. Leek and potato soup, fried parsnips and homemade bread. Old Man Winter hasn’t got the upper hand yet!

 

And this time the ducks get the last word. We gathered the first duck egg of the year this week. A sure sign that Spring is just around the corner. Granted it was frozen solid but even so, definitely a forerunner of what we’re all longing for just about now.

Leeks and potatoes

Super soup makings just up from the basement. Yum!

Box of potatoes layered on newsprint

The potatoes are storing well , layered between sheets of newsprint