Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Tomato Boot Camp and Gardening Notes

   Yesterday morning, I started hardening off the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  For the first while, they'll be put them out early (between 5:15am - 5:30am) and brought in an hour later.  The mornings have been cool and a bit overcast, so no worries than they'll be scorched.

   I also started some lettuce seed in milk jugs yesterday:  Sherwood, Galisse, Lollo Rossa, Black Seeded Simpson, Grand Rapids, and Flashy Butter Oak.        

   This morning, I cleaned out the spent canes in the raspberry patch.  It is sunny, mild, and breezy outdoors; perfect weather for this kind of task.  I spotted two ladybugs nestled amongst the cane, which made me smile. The first bumblebee of the season was buzzing around the composters, looking cute and fuzzy (and sounding like a Cessna).  The patch is  s p r e a d i n g, and there are bare spaces in what we loosely consider to be the rows in the patch.  I’d like to dig up some of the smaller canes and move them to the interior of the patch to fill the spaces and keep the patch from taking over the lawn.  There is just so much else to do, though, that I’m not sure this will be a priority. 

   Last year, volunteer pansies were coming up in the raised beds and the north garden.  I didn’t have to plant any, I just moved them where I wanted them!  No sign of volunteer pansies this year, so  this morning I planted some in the black planter in front of the house (a mix of small yellow, purple, and white ones) and around the back corner of the bathtub (Springtime Cassis, a variety that is new to me).

   The Wooly Thyme looks fantastic - soft and green.   Just love it!  The same can’t be said for the rest of the flower bed.  Last summer, it was overtaken by weeds and quack grass, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with it.  The Creeping Thyme is also green and flourishing, but it self-seeded extensively last year and is now all through the bed, filling in the gaps between the weeds…and the grass has grown up through the original clusters.  Ahrg.  If I decide to deal with the flower bed rather than throwing a tarp over it and hoping nobody notices, my mantra will be, “It’s for the bees…it’s for the bees…”

   The trees and lilac bushes are budding like mad. Strangely enough, I have only seen 2 or 3 dandelions.

   The garlic started to come up about a week ago and is already several inches tall.  I had to rescue the bulbils by pulling off some of the mulch that their sprouts were struggling to get through.  I mulched the bulbil section heavily last Fall on the off chance we were in for a very cold winter.  It turned out not to be; we haven’t had a really cold winter for some time, now… 

   After hemming and hawing over what kind of winter squash to grow this year (the tried-and-true Galeux D’Eysines or North Georgia Candy Roaster, or the new-to-me Rouge Vif d'√Čtampes ("Cinderella Pumpkin") or Delicata), a decision was finally made.  Earlier this week, I started North Georgia Candy Roaster seeds in milk jugs.  The jugs will be kept inside on a heat mat and under lights, and hardened off in June before transplanting.  Hopefully, they will do as well as the first time I grew them! 

It begins!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Effective Microorganisms

    One of my experiments this season will be to brew and use effective microorganisms (EM) on the garden, raised beds, raspberry patch, and compost bins.  The brand available in Canada (it took some tracking down) is from SCD and is called,"ProBio Balance Plus".  I ordered the Mother culture (the most economical option) earlier this year to activate myself.  It is pricey, particularly when shipping costs are factored in, but curiosity won out over frugality and I splurged.  Fortunately, a little goes a long way.  Application and dilution rates vary, but generally speaking, 1L of EM covers 10,000 square feet.

    I mixed up a double batch this morning in a 2L pop bottle and will set it on a heat mat for the next few weeks.  I also ordered some short-range pH test strips from Amazon so I can test the batch before I use it.  (Ideally, EMs should be below 3.7 before using).  This might be overkill, but I have never used EMs before.  I don't want to apply a useless/ineffective brew to the garden.  Better safe than sorry.   

     EMs are supposedly good at eliminating pet smells, so I plan on dousing the front step with the brew, too.  (Our property is Grand Central Station for strays and neighbour kitties who like to drop by and snooze under the trees).

I don't know if they will 'save the earth, but this is a neat little video about effective microorganisms:

This one is a little dry, but different uses for EMs are outlined here:

   It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the EM solution will have on the garden. Some studies say that EMs used in agriculture show an improvement in yields and a decrease in soil-borne pest problems, while others say EMs show little significant effect.  I have also found instructions for making an EM mixture from scratch.  I think I will leave that for another year!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Coaxing The Brassicas

   What a frustrating Spring this has been for starting brassicas in milk jugs.  I had to plant - and then replant them - 3 times!  Germination rates were fine, but the weather remained too cold to put the jugs outside, and the days were so overcast that not enough sunshine came through the windows for the seedlings.  They ended up leggy and weak.  In 2016 and 2017, I successfully sowed kale and cabbage in late March/early April and had them outside well before now.  This year, the third (re)planting was on April 19th.  The weather was milder this past week, so I started putting the jugs outside during the day and bring them in at night.  Hopefully, the third time was the charm.

   In the jugs:  marigolds, flat-leaf parsley, Dazzling Blue kale, Curly kale, Swiss Chard, Red Express cabbage, Cour di Bue cabbage, Aubervilliers cabbage, Brunswick cabbage, Tronchuda collards, Romanesco cauliflower, and Waltham broccoli.

Milk  jug  "greenhouses"

   The mild weather, while welcome, brought with it rapid melting of a LOT of snow.  Our basement is wet, the sump pump has been getting a workout, and we had water pooling at the north-east corner of the house, flooding the cleanout pipe and washing away (into the sewer pipe, we fear) a bunch of gravel that was packed around the cleanout pipe.  R. dug two shallow trenches from the north garden to the cleanout pipe so the water would be directed there instead of against the foundation of the house.  I am looking forward to the snow being gone and the ground drying, not only so I can get to work on the yard, but so the basement will start drying out.

   Despite a lack of sunny weather these past few weeks, the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants seem to be doing okay (thanks to grow lights).  Even the summer savoury, which I started much too early, is doing well.  Flower buds are forming on some of the marigold transplants.  The basil I planted last week (Fine Verde, a kind that's new to me, but the seed is old) has germinated and seems to be going strong.   Some of the bell pepper seeds finally germinated, but they are as slow as cold molasses to grow.  Another "new to me" item is Gazania.  A friend sent me seeds for my birthday, and I started them last week under a grow light, on a heat mat.  These flowers are pretty and reportedtly love the heat.  I hope I can grow a few sturdy transplants.  I know exactly where to put them. 


Tomatoes in the plant room

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Racy Tomatoes and Topping Pepper Plants

   I started potting up tomato, eggplant, and pepper seedlings this past week and have begun the Musical Chairs game of the seedling world.  Trays and pots will be rotated daily, as I have more of those than I have grow-lights.  Once our days become sunnier, a small shelving unit will be set up in the living room against the south-facing windows for the extra transplants.

   My Casper eggplant seeds didn't germinate (old seed), so I fished them out of their peat pellets.  Taking their place are these new-to-me tomato varieties, adding to those started earlier this month:

Auria  (red, heirloom, paste/canner/cooking, elongated/banana, “suggestive shape”, sometimes called “Adam” (as in Adam & Eve), origin Ukraine, indeterminate, wispy foliage, midseason)

Damascus Steel  (stripe/bi-colour purple & red, high anthocyanins, bred by Dean Slater, open-pollinated, 2-3” fruits tapered to round, “sweet with a bit of acidity”, indeterminate, midseason DTM ~80)

   The Chocolate pepper seeds didn't germinate, either (old seed), so I popped in some mixed colour bell pepper seeds, a hybrid that is supposedly early.  We'll see how they do.  

   Chocolate peppers, Carbon tomatoes, and Martino's Roma tomatoes were the first vegetables I grew here.  I wish I kept notes from the beginning; I don't even remember what year I started to garden.  Maybe in 2006?   We must have had very agreeable weather, or else I was blessed with beginniner's luck, as they all did well.  Once I tasted the tomatoes - especially Carbon - I was hooked on gardening and hooked on heirlooms.

   The daughter of a friend asked me recently if I topped my pepper plants.  I was surprised and replied that I didn't.  I top my tomato plants but it had never occured to me to do the same to the peppers!  She showed me some videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to do it.  The result is a bushier, stronger, and more productive plant.  I am eager to try this this summer.  While the hot peppers I've grown have done well, the sweet peppers have underperformed and the plants often look sparse.  I hope topping them gives them the boost they need to produce well!

It is snowing lightly again today.  We have had a lot of snow this month.  Parts of this region (e.g., Fort St. John) received enough this week to break records.  It's wonderful for the skiers and for the children on Spring break who want to go tobogganing, but it makes getting around a little tricky.

I don't have a metre stick, but I do have a broom...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Redpolls and Snowflakes

These little guys (Redpolls, I think) discovered the finch food we put out and have been feasting all weekend.  A few chickadees have also joined in the festivities.  

About two weeks ago, R. brought home finch food instead of the usual bird food we buy.  The sparrows and starlings were not amused.  They unceremoniously flung bunches of it off the bird feeders onto the ground.  I was going to clear out the feeders and replace it with the regular food as soon as we stocked up again, but to my surprise, Redpolls showed up yesterday and seem to be thoroughly enjoying the free lunch.

I took these pictures yesterday.  Considering they were taken on an overcast day and through an older, dusty, double-paned window, they turned out better than expected.  Today, it is -10 degrees and snowing. Very pretty outside.  We've received more snow today than during the two days last week that had forecasted snowfall warnings.  Go figure!

Bea came out to help me shovel this afternoon...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tomato Selections and Heirloom Pumpkin Soup

   Yesterday afternoon was sunny and mild, getting up to 5 degrees.  I walked to the mailbox in short sleeves.  It felt heavenly.

   This past weekend, I processed the second of two Galeux D’Eysines squash I kept from my harvest last Fall.  This was the largest of the whole bunch.  I worried that it might have dried out, having been stored for 7 months, but it kept beautifully.  I ended up with 8-9 cups of puree from this one.  Pumpkin soup is in my near future.   This recipe looks good.  I wish I could wave a magic wand and teleport a steaming potful to Mom’s stovetop.  I think she would love this soup.  I might have to smuggle one of these suckers home the next time I visit.  In my carry-on, I think.  What fun, trying to keep a straight face while airport security clearly wondered what the hell it was as it traveled through the x-ray machine.  I realize liquids in any significant quantity are verboten.  Indeed, we live in an age where it is felt that the risk of kombucha and bottled breast milk being weaponized is sufficiently high that they, among other suspect beverages, must be banned on flights in the interest of public safety.  Might I assume it is lawful in Canada to schlep Cucurbita maxima in one’s luggage between provinces?  They have no sharp edges, after all...

   The leeks, marigolds, summer savoury, and parsley I started early in the month are all coming up well (especially the summer savoury.  I hope I can keep it alive until June!)    And a single rosemary seed has germinated.  Usually, these take at least 2 weeks, even on a heat mat and under a light.

Summer savoury

Leeks, parsley, marigolds

   I started soaking tomato seeds yesterday (wrapping them in damp paper towel and putting them in sandwich baggies to germinate).  Once they’ve germinated, into coir pellets and under the grow light they will go!  I am again hoping for a very warm May so I can transplant them outside mid-month.  This year's varieties are: 


Early Annie  (red, heirloom, 3-inch round, determinate, early DTM 65-70, canner/slicer)

Mazarini (pink, heirloom, heart-shaped, paste variety, few seeds, meaty flesh, wispy foliage, indeterminate, rare Russian tomato)

Black Krim (black/purple, beefsteak, indeterminate, Russian heirloom, juicy, rich flavour)

Russian Rose  (pink, heirloom, indeterminate, medium sized beefsteak, origin Russian, midseason DTM ~80, slicer)

Principe Borghese  (red, heirloom, determinate, small, dry, few seeds, good for sundried tomatoes,~ 75 DTM)

Amana Orange  (orange, heirloom, indeterminate, large beefsteak, midseason DTM ~80-85)


Scotia  (red, open-pollinated, determinate, medium fruit, origin Nova Scotia, early 60-70 DTM, prolific, slicer/canner)

Rutgers  (red, “commercial heirloom”, determinate, heavy yields, medium sized 6-8 oz round fruit, ~75 DTM, canner/slicer/general use)

Bush Beefsteak  (red, open-pollinated, determinate, medium sized 6-8 oz globed-shaped fruit, early 65 DTM, slicer)

Dwarf Roza Vetrov  (pink, open-pollinated, dwarf/determinate, small/salad fruit, round pointed fruit, origin Russian “Wind Rose”, early)

Work Release  (pink, heirloom, heart-shaped, paste, indeterminate, large, origin Italian, mid-season ~80 DTM)

Malakhitovaya Shkatulka  (green, heirloom, indeterminate, medium sized fruit, Russian origin “Malachite Box”, early – 70 DTM, slicer)

Golden Jubilee (orange, heirloom, indeterminate, round, medium sized fruit, 70-80 DTM, slicer)

   I only have two Amana Orange seeds, but am hoping to get solid plants from them so I can rebuild my seed stock. Amana Orange tomatoes are big and are a beautiful colour; they almost seem to glow from the inside.  The sauce made from them is a little jarring to see on pasta when you’re used to traditional red sauce, but the taste is fantastic.

   From here on, I will be referring to the Malakhitovaya Shkatulka tomatoes as “Malachite Box”, for obvious reasons!

Update March 29 - the Casper eggplant seeds I sowed didn't germinate (old seed), so I fished them out of their peat pellets and in their place sowed these new-to-me tomato varieties:

Auria  (red, heirloom, paste/canner/cooking, elongated/banana, “suggestive shape”, sometimes called “Adam” in the Ukraine (origin), indeterminate, wispy foliage, midseason)

Damascus Steel  (stripe/bi-colour purple & red, high anthocyanins, bred by Dean Slater, open-pollinated, 2-3” fruits tapered to round, “sweet with a bit of acidity”, indeterminate, midseason DTM ~80)

   In case the link above ever fizzles out, here is the recipe for Heirloom Pumpkin Soup:

Heirloom Pumpkin Soup

Serves 10

  • 5 pounds edible pumpkin, Galeux D'Eysines
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced white parts
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
  • 2 fresh sprigs rosemary, chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, optional
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup half and half

  1. First, get a sharp knife. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds. Cut the halves into manageable chunks, then cut away the outer rind. Dice the flesh into 1-inch cubes. It's really not so hard if you have a good chef's knife.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot, medium heat. Add the leeks, onion and herbs and sweat the aromatics until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the pumpkin cubes and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. Puree using an immersion blender. Swirl in the butter and the half and half. Add the nutmeg, then taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Use the sugar if you like a slight sweetness to your soups.