Category Archives: Planning for Spring

Spring Again! Already?

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How can a year go by so quickly? My last post was complaining about the snow, on April 3rd. 2017 and guess what, one year and a few days later, that same post still holds true. We had another snow fall the other night! But not to worry, temperatures are rising and it’s definitely time to be planting some seeds! If nothing else, this is one of the best antidotes I know for fending off the April snow-lows.

Snow Mold

While on the topic of snow I want to share some interesting info. I only recently heard about – there’s such a thing as snow mold, and dogs (especially) can develop an allergic reaction to it, given their habit of snuffling along the ground. I met a wheezy dog who told me all about it, as interpreted by his owner, who’d been clued in by a vet. Apparently, spores which have become trapped under the snow are released as the snow melts. Useful to know, especially if Fall allergies seem to have returned with a vengeance.

mache or corn salad

The sweet nutty flavor of mache or ‘corn salad’ is especially welcomed in the spring and these smallish plants are tough, tough, tough! Seeds are usually marketed under the name ‘mache’ but I prefer to use the German name Rapunzel as it relates to the Grimm’s fairy tale.

I am way behind schedule as usual. Could have had first hardy greens out two or three weeks ago but Hey! I do what I do and life is good 🙂 At this time of year, with so much to be done, I do believe it’s very important not to panic or feel overwhelmed. Plants have an endearing habit of catching up and forgiving, even if they would have preferred to be put in the ground a little earlier than they were.

hens in hen poster

Hens hard at work making the Best Compost Ever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will be spicing my soil up with The Best Ever compost from the hen poster. Constructing a hen poster is much like the first project in rough carpentry 101. Simply nail eight boards into a square, two boards high and add chickens. It’s so totally worth constructing one of these, even if you only have a few chickens. My girls seem to think of it as their special treat spot and they run out each morning to check on the day’s offering of kitchen scraps. As they dig, scratch and rummage – and yes, poop – they produce a soil mix that’s truly magical. And while on the subject of compost, Note to Self – time to start turning the other compost boxes. Self has been slacking on the compost turning and needs to start paying a bit more attention!

a winter's worth of goat bedding gets piled up as the goats watch on

We spun all that straw into manure!

Shoveling seems to be the activity of the month! All the animal sheds need to be cleaned out. Yikes! Where’s a woofer when you need one? On the bright, but still smelly, side, a bit of hot manure added to the compost will spark it up in no time. *My yearly warning to anyone who might just be starting out on their gardening adventure – don’t ever put hot (fresh) chicken manure on your garden beds because it will burn the tender shoots. Chicken manure is brilliant, my fave, but it really does need to age, preferably for a year, and definitely for at least six months.

finer organics such as leaf mold and manure are layer on top of the twigs

Memories of setting up the hugel in the ‘Secret Garden’ We’re still feasting on the squash that grew in it last Fall and presently it is sprouting a goodly crop of garlic!

Dodging in and out between torrential rains and sneaky little snow squalls, I’ve been tidying up my ‘secret garden’ – a smallish space tucked away on the north side of the goat pasture. It has its own little micro-climate and is often ten degrees or so warmer than the rest of the property. It’s not quite wild zone, not quite food forest, but a perfect spot for unobtrusive, single-harvest crops such as berries and garlic. This is where I built my first fedge, which has developed into a robust live-fence and also where I constructed a heart-shaped hugel bed, using all the surrounding deadfall – planted squash and pumpkin in the hugel last year and we are still feasting off them. Seriously! Also put several five-gallon pots with potatoes planted in them, which did remarkably well. It’s amazing how much food came out of this innocuous little space. With that in mind I’ve decided to develop a small lasagna bed here to maximize on this little pocket of higher temperatures.

starting to build a lasagna bed

cardboard first keeps underlying weeds out of the bed.

I’d laid some cardboard down to put the potato pots on last year and it in turn seem to suggest that a small lasagna bed would fit perfectly between the two butternut trees we planted a few years ago. It’s really quite easy to throw together a lasagna type bed for early greens – first, a layer of cardboard to prevent any virulent weeds from forcing their way up from below, then a thin layer of fresh chicken manure – I know, that sounds like a complete reversal of what I said earlier, but not so. If the ‘hot’ manure is buried below the level the delicate roots will reach down to, it will act as a source of heat to warm the soil up and also to aid in the breakdown of the other organic elements layered on to of it. The important thing to remember is to create a generous buffer zone between  the hot manure and the roots of the plants by adding sufficient  layers of organic material on top of the manure.

collection of organic materials gathered to create a lasagna bed

very fresh (very hot!) chicken manure to left, seaweed to right with barn bedding – not very pretty yet but will make wonderful soil

My layers consist of hay bedding from the goose shed (including one very old goose egg which smelt truly disgusting when it exploded:-(  leaves from last year, a bale of moldy hay, seaweed washed ashore in the latest  couple of storms, compost from the hen-poster and a couple of barrows of soil, mixed with rabbit poo and a bit of sphagnum. When building soil like this, I’ve found it’s quite feasible to laydown fairly narrow trenches of additional soil, couple of inches deep, where the seeds are to be planted, rather attempt to cover the bed entirely, as this often results in a thin skim of soil, that leaves roots needing more.

farm dog at rest

Being a farm dog is hard!

In closing, a word of warning to any predators who might be skulking around – our trusty farm dog Juno remains vigilant and on guard twenty-four seven!

 

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Things Are Getting Seedy!

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Things Are Getting Seedy!
Seedy Saturday poster

Seedy Saturdays are always a fun way to connect with kindred spirits and pick up some inspiration along with some seed

Yay! It’s that time of year again.

Despite the sizeable (but slowly diminishing) drifts of snow the first seed catalogues have arrived

Our local feed store even has their seed display set up – right next to the blazing, and much needed wood fire. And, as if this wasn’t incentive enough to start planning this year’s garden – well, a trip to a seed swap (Seedy Saturday) is sure to get those green thumbs out of hibernation.

Leeks and potatoes

Planning next winter’s hearty meals should start now!

 

 

At this time of year – actually it’s less than thirty days away from Spring, even if it doesn’t feel much like it some days– choices are so easily influenced by innate longings for all things summer, including what grows in the garden: crunchy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers peppers and so on.

It’s tempting to forget about the Fall crops that tide us over the winter months, forming the basis for so many hearty winter meals. Winter crops store well but generally speaking are slower growing than their summer time counter parts, which tend to gallop through their growth stages toward maturity in order to avoid the first frost. Late crops such as Brussels sprouts, parsnips and leeks don’t have to hurry because they’re quite frost tolerant.

Leeks, members of the Allium genus, are beautiful vegetables that really don’t get the attention they deserve, in my opinion. They’re easy to grow, they store remarkably well, and their mild, oniony flavor is perfect for quiches, soups and stir-frys, as well as in more adventurous dishes such as vegetable pie or a ‘modified’ spanakopita.

So, this is my shout-out for Leeks!

three leeks, three potatoes

Leeks and potatoes make a simple but super satisfying soup.

They do need to be started really early. The seed is tiny and can be difficult to space in a typical garden bed and, when they eventually poke up through the soil, they look just like tiny blades of grass. This resemblance makes it more than likely that they’ll get ‘weeded’ out. It’s much better to start leeks inside.

leek seedlings

These young leeks plants which were all seeded in one pot are now ready to be planted outside

mature leeks

Leeks are quite a compact plant and when well mulched they don’t require a whole lot of space.

Good news is that this doesn’t need to be a major undertaking, with each seed requiring its own little pot. It’s much easier to sprinkle a few seeds together in one large pot. One of the great things about leeks is that they don’t mind having their roots disturbed. This means that the grass-like leek sprouts can be left in the one pot for a couple of months until it’s convenient to transplant them. The roots will no doubt be tangled but can be gently separated and replanted. No problem.

Leeks like to be planted in trenches of rich soil and then gradually hilled up as they grow. This increases the size of the white, tender base of the leek. They do also need plenty of water to really flourish. Heavy mulching will help with water retention, will keep the weeds away and will also help to keep the soil cool. This puts leeks in their ‘happy place’, and once they’ve been ‘happily’ bedded in I find leeks to be pretty much hassle free.

The hilling up of leeks can result in some particles of dirt getting trapped under the outer layers of the leek. No problem! There’s a super easy way to clean leeks. Simply slice down the centre of the leek from top to bottom, holding firmly onto the base of the leek, then dunk it a few times in clean water. Any soil particles will be instantly released – it’s that simple. They’re now ready for slicing into your favorite dish. Mine is leek and feta quiche, with cream of leek and potato soup a close second.

a leek being ceaned

To clean a leek simply trim and slice vertically before dunking several times in clean water.

Leeks are the emblem of that so wonderful country of Wales (okay, so I’m slightly biased!) so why not plant some leeks on March 1st in honour of St David’s Day (the patron saint of Wales) and to scratch that itchy green thumb but mostly to ensure a good crop of this super nutritious allium that will store for many months and grace no end of delicious meals.

My big news is that my new book, The Food Lover’s Garden, is at the printer’s and slated to be in the stores around March 21st This book is in full color and I got to illustrate it with thirty some watercolor paintings of one of my favorite things – vegetables – as well as forty some photographs all taken right here at QuackaDoodle Farm.

Food Lover's Garden bcover

Front Cover of my new book – due in stores March 21st. 2017

It looks like the designer has done a magnificent job and as usual all the folks at New Society Publishers have been wonderful to work with. I feel truly blessed to be working with such an ethical and efficient company that strives hard to produce the perfect, eco friendly product. Kudos to them!

Link

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