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In Praise of Parsnips

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I know! Way beyond the planning stage for many (if not most gardeners) but here in the Maritimes, and especially on this little island of ours, it’s staying cold! I believe that May 24th. used to be the traditional planting day but at the rate things are warming up (sloowlee) it will be well into June before the ground will be warm enough for beans, squash, potatoes and other such warm-soil lovers. Even the kale, lettuce and other less fragile plants seem to be dragging their feet (or should that be roots?). However, things are bound to warm up sooner or later and probably overnight – this, having taken the Gardeners Vow of Eternal Optimism, we have to believe 🙂 – and with that belief gripped tightly in one hand, lists are being made. What to plant? And where and when?

One giant parsnipThis is where I’d like to give a shout out for parsnips, a vegetable I feel does not receive the attention or respect it deserves. I’ll start with the cons. and end with the pros. so that all my glowing recommendations will erase the very few less conducive facts about growing parsnips. So, here goes:

Parsnips tend to be very slow to germinate, in my experience. I have also found that their seed germination rate is never one hundred per cent. This tends to back up a theory I have (this just a theory of mine – not backed up by any scientific evidence {just experience}). A parsnip left in the ground to mature produces a massive amount of seed in it’s second year- if every one of these seeds germinated the world would be inundated with parsnips! I believe that parsnips have to produce a lot of seed to compensate for their poor rate of germination.

Because of the unpredictable germination rate, I tend to seed quite heavily, which brings me to the next ‘issue’ with parsnips – they like their space! Whereas beets, and carrots will,to a certain degree, tolerate snuggling up close with their siblings, parsnips will not. They like their elbow room and, paired with heavy seeding, this can result in the need for fairly intensive thinning once seedlings emerge. Not a fave. pastime of mine. However, these two little quirks pale in the glow of a perfect parsnip.

parsniparsnips, newly dug laying on the ground

After a winter in the ground these newly dug roots are as fresh and tasty as could be

Parsnips are sweet! And tender! They’re highly versatile and also extremely nutritious – especially good for healthy heart and weight maintenance. What’s especially cool about parsnips is that they will over-winter, so first thing in the Spring, as soon as the hard frost leaves the earth, you can go out and dig some beautiful fresh produce. How do I love them, let me count the ways – roasted, fried, added to a veggie soup, mashed with carrots or potatoes and, most dearly, made into one of my special faves, curried parsnip soup.

one giant parsnip!

This second year parsnip actually grew quite a bit bigger and certainly much more robust – it took an axe to bring it down.

A touch of frost really helps to sweeten the taste even more so, ergo, parsnips that have overwintered are especially delicious! One thing to remember when harvesting overwintered parsnips – dig them as earlier as possible. When left in the ground too long they will turn woody and begin to sprout a stem, which in time will bear oodles of seed.

This is, of course, is how biennials reproduce, by taking two years to complete their cycle. It really is a good idea to leave one root in the ground and harvest your own seed in late summer of the second year, especially as parsnip seed loses much of it’s efficacy after year one. You really need to plant fresh seed each year. And here’s a thing I’ve been noticing – our local seed supplier has stopped putting ‘date packed on’ and a ‘use before date’ on their seed packets. I have a real problem with this because I know that shelf life of seeds varies considerably, some only being good for one year. If I have to buy some seed, and pay an exorbitant price for it, I want to know it’s fresh. So, a word of warning – check dates on any purchased seed (it is usually at the base of the flip side of the packet) and if there is no date shown, be wary!

When planting parsnips, take good care to keep the ground moistened – I have covered my rows with some old burlap to help preserve moisture, and have been watering them anytime we don’t have rain for a couple of days. I have not had to water much so far this year 😦 I have seen it suggested that planting a row of radishes along with the parsnips to mark the row. I did try this once but it seemed to me that harvesting the radishes disrupted the tiny parsnip seedlings so this is not a practice I favor. It certainly does help to demonstrate how much slower parsnips are, compared to radishes. The take-away here is Grow some parsnips! Just be patient.

For anyone in the Halifax area, mark this date! June 16th. The Halifax Garden Festival

https://www.facebook.com/HalifaxGardenFestival

cover of Permaculture For The Rest of Us

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

I will be there with copies of my books and an interesting assortment of what I call ‘Purposeful Plants’ for sale. I will also be giving a short presentation in the ‘talk tent’ on the purposes these plants serve. Hope you can make it and if you’re there, please drop by to my booth to say Hi!

Food Lover's Garden bcover

Front Cover of my new book – available at most book stores or signed copies at the Halifax Garden Festival

 

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Easy Peasey!

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purple crocuses

They just popped up to confirm that yes, it is Spring.

What a difference a couple of days can make! Spring seems to have sprung overnight and scowling complaints about April snow have been replaced by smiling faces and joyous amazement at the brilliant weather we’re experiencing here in Nova Scotia. Yay! I was wondering if I was pushing my luck planting early peas (snow peas) but now I’m glad I did.

A Word or Two on Planting Peas

There are lots of choices! The two main categories are edible pod, which tend to produce a smallish pea (fabulous in salads and stir-fries) and the more typical pea that needs to be shelled (as served with meat and ‘taters) – there are sub-categories to each of these, which include edible pod which also produces larger peas and larger pea varieties that tend to be less sweet but are especially good for drying. There are also ‘bush’ peas but I always seem to have better success with the more typical peas that grow on vines and need to be supported (even though they are a bit more work). To add to the confusion there are also some very early varieties and others that are better able to withstand the heat of early summer. Planting peas certainly requires some decision making which will be influenced by personal wants. The best solution, I think, is to plant a couple of different varieties, if space allows, and then to stagger the planting a week or so apart throughout the first few weeks of Spring.

When planting peas it really increases the yield to use inoculant. This is a naturally occurring bacteria (I believe derived from peat moss)for use with peas, beans and lima beans. It increases the yield big time and improves the soil. Inoculant costs around $8.00 for a small package but it goes a long way and is very easy to use.  Check the date on the package – inoculant has a short shelf-life and last year’s inoculant is no longer viable!

Some people prefer to soak legume seeds overnight to soften them up and get them in the mood for sprouting. This requires a certain amount of pre-planning – something I’m not good at. (Seeds left soaking too long will sprout and eventually rot, if not planted.) After having my planting delayed so often, for a myriad reasons, I now simply soak the seeds for a couple of hours on the day I’m certain they will be going in the ground.

peas coated with inoculant

These peas (damp) were gently rolled around in some inoculant, in a 125 gm. mason jar and need to be planted immediately

To apply the inoculant, I use a small (125 gm) mason jar. The jar is dry inside but the seed is damp so that when it’s rolled around in the inoculant it becomes well coated and ready to plant. Have heard that a half ‘n half mixture of whole milk and molasses works much better as it serves to nourish the nitrogen fixing bacteria, but I haven’t tried this.

One thing I have learnt – Less is more and a little goes a long way. The inoculant resembles very finely-powdered charcoal and it really doesn’t take much to coat more legume seeds than might be expected. Also, it’s important to remember that once the seeds have been coated they should go in the ground immediately. What might look like scant amounts of seed and inoculant will probably prove to be more than enough for a typical home garden. It’s easy to coat a few extra seeds if needed but it can be a nuisance having to search around for more places to plant an excess of coated seed.

Peas prefer to be planted in a shallow trench, which is gradually filled in as the sprouts appear. This eliminates the need for the first tender shoots to be forcing their way through too much soil, while at the same time allowing the roots to be generously covered in the heat of summer. However, this is not essential and not always convenient, especially when planting around a circular frame.

This circular pea frame is made from willow and the false bamboo stakes from miscanthus giganteus grass

Peas like rich soil but they also enrich the soil due to the nitrogen enhancing nodules that form on the roots. With this in mind, rather than pulling the whole plant (roots and all) after harvest is done, I prefer to cut the vine off at ground level, leaving the root in the ground.  Typically, peas don’t thrive all summer long and once the leaves start to lose their color and turn mottled it’s definitely time to remove these vines from the garden. They are probably affected by a disease called ‘rust’, which will spread to bean plants.

Another thing I have learnt, both about myself and about planting peas – The support frame, whether it’s a trellis, a ‘tepee’ style structure or simply strings attached to a wall, should be in place before the peas (or runner beans) are planted. It’s so easy to think that there will be time to do that later but guess what? There’s always something else that takes precedence, certainly in my life, so now (finally) I’ve learnt to have the support in place before the seed goes in the ground.

A watercolour painting of peas

I did this painting as one of the illustrations for my latest book, The Food Lovers’ Garden

 

 

Pea shoots are quite delicate, but once their little tendrils grab on to something, they don’t let go. If there’s no support, they’ll grab on to each other and rapidly become a tangled slug feast splayed over the ground

In closing, peas and beans share many similarities but they also differ in certain ways. Beans do not like cold soil and it’s certainly too early to be planting beans – peas like the cooler temperatures of Spring, beans like it much warmer. Also, a little companion planting tip, legumes do not thrive close to  onions or leeks, as plants in the allium family tend to stunt their growth.

book cover

The Food Lover’s Garden

For lots more information on growing (and eating) legumes as well as many other vegetables I hope you will check out my book, The Food Lover’s Garden. It’s available from most major book sellers and on-line from Amazon.

 

 

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!

 

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!

A Perfect Pickle

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Freshly washed eggs

The eggs just keep on coming. It must be Spring with an eggsess like this!

Enough with the eggs already! I know, but when you’re in the middle of an eggsplosion it’s hard not to be just a little eggsessive. No kidding!

Seriously though, I think most of us have at some time or another gotten very frustrated trying to peel a hard boiled egg or somehow or another have ended up with a surplus of eggs and not known quite what to do with them. This post is for you!

First off, how to ‘cook’ a perfect hard-boiled egg. No prizes here for guessing the cooking method 🙂 I used to think that the eggs should be lowered into boiling water but no, eggs should be placed in pan and completely covered with cold water which is then brought to a rolling boil. The pan, with a tightly fitting lid is then removed from the heat and left to sit. The time varies depending on the type and size of egg. Chicken eggs are left for twelve – thirteen but duck eggs need a little longer in my experience. The last batch of duck eggs I did were left to sit for fourteen minutes eggsactly and while the majority were perfect, a couple could have used just a little longer. Next time I plan to leave them for fifteen minutes, but definitely no longer. When overcooked the yolks develop a grey/green rim around their outer edge, which is perfectly edible but just not very appealing, and also the whites will tend to become rubbery.

eggs in basket

These eggs are scrubbed and tickety-boo ready to go to market. (Check us out at Local Source)

Sammy slicer

This little guy is so cute he really doesn’t need to work but he’s just great at slicing eggs.

If I was never quite comfortable with the boiling of eggs  (I could never get the timing right), I was certainly not in my happy place when it came to peeling them, until I learnt that fresh eggs are virtually impossible to peel ‘clean’. In a truly fresh egg the shell, membrane and white are melded together. It takes a week or two for the membrane to shrink and pull away from the shell creating an airspace, and making it much easier to peel the shell away.

If the eggs have been properly stored, that is, pointy end down, an small airspace will have formed at the top (more rounded) end of the egg. I find it best to crack this end open first then submerge the egg in a bowl of cold water allowing the water to penetrate. Sometimes, and depending on the age of the egg, the shell might peel off in a circular rotation, much like the peel of an apple or it might be necessary to gently tap the sides of the egg shell against the side of the sink to further crack the shell. It’s best not to roll the egg to crack the shell as this will separate the white from the yolk.

Pickling eggs is a very simple procedure. To make sure the jars are properly sterilized first wash in warm soapy water and then rinse in clear water. Place jars upright on a cookie sheet and place in a warm oven (225 degrees) for twenty minutes. While the jars are sterilizing bring equal parts of water and white vinegar, (one or two cups of each depending on the amount of eggs being pickled) and 1-2Tbs. of sugar and 1-2 Tbs. of pickling spices to a boil. Pack eggs in sterilized jars and cover with the hot liquid and seal. If for some reason the peeled eggs have been in the fridge don’t put them directly into hot jars as this might cause the jars to crack. Pickled eggs will keep for a couple of months in the refrigerator. They are great in a packed lunch, sliced in a salad or served as an hors d’oeuvre. I have a handy dandy egg slicer, that looks kinda’ cute and really does work. Have to love that!

The take away from this is that fresh eggs will not peel clean no matter how careful you are. Eggs from QuackaDoodle need to be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks before they peel well.

Shows dense growth of rubarb with rooster in chicken tractor in the background

Deep in the magic Rhubarb Forest

This is not a problem. Chicken eggs will stay fresh for several weeks and duck eggs for even longer because of their thicker shells. And even then they’ll likely still be much fresher than any bought at the local supermarket!

Rhubarb is another thing that’s going nutso crazy at this time of year. Given all the rain we’ve had these past couple of weeks it’s a jungle out there. Yikes! What to do with it all apart from the obvious like stewing it (with ice cream it is amazing) and making it into muffins and pies and crumbles? One favourite we have around QuackaDoodle is rhubarb chutney.  This chutney is especially good with curry dishes and biryanis. It doesn’t take long to prepare and is so totally worth the effort.

Rhubarb Chutney Recipe (highly recommended!)

rhubarb

First pick of the year. Yum!

Heat together

1  1/2 c of cider vinegar

2 c brown sugar

1 t ground ginger

1 t cinnamon

1/2 t cayenne

1/2 t black pepper

1/2 t ground cloves

1 t salt

Stir until sugar is dissolved then add

6 c chopped rhubarb

2 c chopped onion

1/2 dried figs (chopped)

1/2 dried cranberries

I c chopped apple

1 c golden raisin

3 t minced garlic

1/4 crystalized ginger finely chopped

Simmer until thickened (about one hour) and spoon in to sterilized jars. Process (boil in a water bath) for fifteen minutes. And enjoy!

Special note for anyone in the Halifax area. QuackaDoodle duck eggs are for sale at Local Source Market on Agricola. Even if you’re not in the market for eggs this super store is well worth a visit if you’re a locavore who loves good food.

 

 

Some Days are Diamond, Some Days are Not

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In purely visual terms I suppose yesterday, the first day of Spring, could be classed as ‘diamond’, being that for the first half of it everything was coated in a shiny skin of freezing rain, which came after the snow, but before the sleet or the ice pellets; none of which was in any way conducive to Spring-like frolics.

Freezing rain coats window.

Micro greens on the kitchen window sill don’t believe this is the first day of Spring as freezing rain coats the pane… or is that pain

 

Sylph of Spring

Sylphie Spring takes up her place on the shelf despite the weather!

old man winter

Old man winter was thinking he might stick around

Even so, it was definitely time for Old Man Winter to vacate from his place of honour on the kitchen shelf in favour of the first Sylph of Spring.

The fact is, us gardeners are eternal optimists! How could we believe anything other than that Spring is truly here… well, at least near?

And of course it can’t come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

I was out on the weekend adding extra mulch to the berry patch and yes, some opportunistic weeds were already showing themselves. These were the ones that  had spent the winter  developing a healthy root system 😦

So yes, definitely time to renew mulch where needed. It’s also a good time to do a bit of pruning.  All my Haskap bushes seem to have fared quite well but there were a few  damaged twigs and branches that needed to go. This is certainly the time to prune Haskaps but never more than twenty-five percent should be cut away.

It’s also more than time to be planting herb seeds (inside) and slow starters such as leeks and hardy greens, such as Tat Soi, kale and arugula. Around here (the east coast of Nova Scotia) it’s virtually impossible to predict when the last frost will come. The weather patterns, especially over the past few years, have become so unpredictable that every year is yet another variance on the norm. So much so that, well, what is the norm?

Our greenhouse was trashed by winter storms and is temporarily out of commission, so I’m planning on setting up some early beds with some ‘in-ground’ heating. Here’s the plan: I have a couple of cold frames and a box-type nursery bed that are empty. I’m going to put a layer of super fresh chicken manure down first, then cover it with a generous layer of mulch, which will probably be leaves because that’s what we have most of right now. It’s important to make sure that no roots can access the manure which will be way too hot and will kill young plants, but will generate enough heat to keep the beds a couple of degrees warmer than the soil outside. The manure and mulch will then be topped with a couple of bags of soil. I won’t need too much soil as the plants I’m starting (early greens) are all fairly shallow rooted.

I’m going to start everything inside in recycled food packaging and in a couple of weeks, when everything has sprouted and presumably things have heated up outside, a least a little bit, I’ll move them out side and set them in the soil in the ‘hot box’. I’ve done this before and had great success. As an added bonus to the early start, the manure and mulch and soil gradually rotted down into a incredibly fertile mix that was perfect for a shoulder season crop in the fall. So fingers crossed! I will post an ongoing progress report.

Sitting with a wet hen

Wrapped in towels and held up close she warms up gradually

The other morning my first job (before my coffee even 😦 was to deal with a hypothermic chicken. She had managed to get left out throughout a night of freezing rain. There’s an expression; ‘Madder than a wet hen’ which can now be expanded to; ‘Sadder than a hypothermic hen!’ Sitting by the woodstove cuddling Henmoine brought back memories of when my kids were babies, except they squirmed more and definitely were more vocal when they weren’t feeling well. It also seemed like this might be the beginning of one weird day, or, just another day, down here at QuackaDoodle.

one dry hen

After a couple of hours in the bathroom Henmoine is happy again but determined never to get left out again.

 

 

The Perfect Antidote For a Nasty Case of Twitchy Green Thumb

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The Perfect Antidote For a Nasty Case of Twitchy Green Thumb
A texas chicken

It’s true! Everything is bigger in Texas

We (my book, Permaculture for the Rest of Us, and I ) just got back from the Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, Texas. Wow! I had no idea idea what an amazing experience that would be. Thousands of people travel, often from quite a distance, to take in these two day events… and for good reason. And what people! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, so much so, that I’d say “Take a trip to Texas if your faith in humanity starts to feel a little shaky.” And yes, more good news, Permaculture is alive and very welcomed 🙂

Mother Earth News (http://www.motherearthnewsfair.com/) does an incredible job organizing these yearly events and there are still more book for this year. Well worth the effort to attend one.

I was fortunate enough to have a couple of extra days exploring the Austin area.

At the Lady Bird Johnson (https://www.wildflower.org/ladybird/) Wild Flower Center we met a man sitting in the middle of a field pulling out weeds from around the wild blue bonnets. Apparently these brilliant blue flowers, which look a lot like stunted lupines, are a most welcomed sign of Spring. He directed us to the Continental Club, downtown Austin, where we heard some of the coolest jazz we’d heard in a long while. This flexible performance was known as Church on Monday. I know I felt blessed!

inside Springdale farm store

Springdale urban farm store opens twice a week and supplies gourmet restaurants and food stamp recipients and everyone in between

Also had the opportunity to visit a couple of urban farms. One supplied several restaurants and hosted a gourmet food truck while also being part of a food stamp program which allowed for the less fortunate to eat well, as well. I really admired this interpretation of the less often mentioned Permaculture ethic: Equitable or fair share.

Community leaf dump

The local community is invited to dump there leaves here

 

 

 

 

 

Veggietables growing in field

How much food can you grow on a five acre urban lot? Lots! At Boggy Creek Farm

 

 

Urban farmers Texas style

Urban farmers at Boggy Creek Farm, Austin Texas

Unfortunately, while drooling over the rows of lush veggies at the farms I picked up a nasty case of Twitchy Green Thumb… not always an easy thing to cure at this time of year, but fortunately help is coming soon. Very soon in fact.

Would you believe tomorrow, Saturday, February 26th. It’s Seedy Saturday in Truro. Where? St Andrew’s United Church, 55, King Street When? from 10.00 – 2.00

This laid back family oriented event is a great opportunity to mingle, pick up some ideas, as well as some seeds and yes, an effective salve for your own Twitchy Green Thumb.

I will be there with Permaculture for the Rest of Us. Hope to meet you and perhaps chat about all thing green and beautiful 🙂

Shows a poster for Seedy Saturday

Seedy Saturday happens tomorrow!