Monday, May 23, 2011

Morel Harvest Monday

Okay, I admit, I didn't eat these but they are morels. There were only two so I figured it would be better if they produced some spores so many there'll be more in the future and because I'm a novice muchroom hunter.

These are yellow/pale morels I think.

On the other hand, there were a fair number of false morels in the conifer forest.

Here is a classic looking false morel with its more disordered cap. Not edible

I think it is very easy to tell the difference. Beyond looking like melting brains, false morels are also chambered in cross section rather than hollow.

Found this huge false morel in the conifer forest.

By the way, what every novice mushroom hunter is wearing this season:

It's also giant black mosquito season.


North American Mushroom Clubs

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Planting Out Considerations

Someone asked me, "When do you plant out tomatoes?" I answered then I expanded on that answer then I gave that answer some deep thought (or at least deeper than the shallow rut of habit). There are various considerations when deciding when to seed or transplant.

Hardy, woodland Hablitzia handles light frost as a seedling.

Temperature: Probably the best known is the air temperature or whether or not there will be frost. Most seed packets only give instructions in relationship to either first or last frost. This is important because frost tender plants keel over when touched by ice but following the instructions does not necessarily mean that they will thrive.

Soil temperature is also important for the growth of the plant. You may have noticed that some plants just seem to sit there until the temperatures rise and they they burst into growth. Not all soils warm at the same rate in the spring. Heavy clay soils take longer to warm then light sandy soils. Loamy soils hold moisture so I presume they would moderate the temperature. Besides, that crumbly beautiful loam is something to aspire too.

Topography will effect how your soil warms too. Sunny slopes will warm more quickly than those that slope north. The advantage is quicker thaws but the disadvantage is late frosts killing early blossoms so no fruit. Slight variations in landscape can be used to your advantage. Plant water loving, cool weather crops like most brassicas in the little dips and heat loving, dry tolerant plants like sweet potatoes (they'll grow better if not droughted) on the rises.

Buildings, trees and other barriers to wind, sun and rain will also affect whether or not soils are ready to work.

The point? It may be less stressful for certain plants to hold off a week until heavy soils are warmer. Got sandy soil? You could plant earlier but be wary of late frosts.


Give garlic the jumpstart and plant in the fall.

Weather Patterns: Seasonal drought, rainy periods or cylical flooding obviously will effect planting. One Ottawa application is that with the high water table of spring, planting out carrots a few weeks after hard frost but before last frost date gets good germination. In the height of summer, it can be harder to germinate a fall crop of carrots without help - either daily watering or a germination board.

Of course weather patterns on a large scale include seasons. For example, it is a good idea to plant anything that bolts easily in heat like florence fennel, chinese cabbage in mid-late summer so that it matures in the cool weather of fall.

On the small scale, seed just before rain and transplant under cloudy skies. I should make the weather forecast my homepage as it rules my gardening schedule. Seeding=Wet, Weeding=Sun, or S=W, is the formula I use to let nature help. Of course, weeding heavy clay after a few weeks of drought is pretty much hopeless without a pickax. But in moist spring soils or mulched beds, pulling young weeds in the sun and tossing them roots up will kill them quick (the occasional weed like purslane will just set seed anyhow - good thing it's edible).

The Point? Planting out or seeding when you can expect good soil moisture means less work. Also, don't fight the plant. Some like it hot and some do not.

Red cabbage with its cutworm collar. Started in March, set up in April.

Stage of Growth of Seedling: Have some determinate tomatoes that are in bud but stuck in a pot? I understand your desire to plant them out. At a certain stage, seedlings have to have more space or you run the risk of them flowering prematurely or otherwise having their growth checked or roots damaged. Potting them up may be a better alternative to planting out if the weather is not cooperating. I've been stuck on more than one occasion with bulky brassica or towering tomatoes and frost on the forecast. The former can go in the ground as long as the weather system doesn't fall into wintery patterns for too long but the former has to wait under cover.

Overly small plants often don't transplant well either possibly because of an under developed root system even if they would self seed.

The point? It doesn't always pay to seed early though if you do (and I always do for something), then you may need to plant before conditions are ideal. However, sometimes you win the weather jackpot by planting early. The point again? Why not seed twice a week or two apart.

Half winter sown tomato.

Insect and Disease Pressure: This will depend on what's pest-ering you but waiting a couple weeks after the first wave of carrot rust fly have flown through may lower damage. Some people have to get their tomatoes in the ground early to get a harvest before blight arrives. Hopefully your garden is free of anything serious. Other prevention techniques like providing a diverse habitat to beneficials, breaking up the blocks (or not providing an all you can eat buffet of one kind of plant in one area), rotation, and keeping your soil in good health will mean that even though you have the odd disease or pest, they are not a big problem. That said, some pests are a fact of life for some people and even the best management is not enough. You win some and some get eaten.

The point? Think of your pest like the weather and watch its patterns. Use with Exclusion, Intrusion, Removal and Rotation*

Harvest: If you are harvesting a plant all at once rather than hoping to eat it all summer, then you don't have the pressure to get it out as early as possible. Sauce tomatoes, pickles and canning beans could all fit into this category. Determinate or bush varieties work well for this too as they often fruit all at once. Alternatively, if you really, really, really want some greens early in the season, then try overwintering young plants of spinach or kale for early regrowth is the way to go.

So when do I plant out tomatoes?

Not earlier than May 14 and sometimes as late as the first week of June. Depends on the longterm forecast and the size of my plants. I have predominantly sandy soil in the working gardens on a slight western slope.

* Exclusion, Inclusion, Removal and Rotation: The way the bugs and I live with each other. Exclude them using barriers like row covers, cutworm colours and windbreaks. Include lots of plantings for beneficials like insects, birds and toads that predate or parasitize them. Also include plants that break up scent and sight signals of the pest. Remove - hand pick - pests when you see them. You may also want to remove any weeds that could harbour diseases like viruses or fungi or help overwinter pests. I generally don't because I like the diversity but it's an option if you are running out. Rotation is a more complex issue because it is done on a very microscale in most urban settings. More on this topic another day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Harvesting Recognizable Veggies Monday

I know you enjoy my foraging in the forest or amoung the weeds, but I'm happy to announce that today two well known veggies are ready for harvest: Asparagus and Rhubarb.

Don't even have time to add a post-harvest picture. I have a circular bed with a diametre of 100feet to finish before the long weekend.

I'd write more about perennial vegetables of which there are thankfully many but I have to garden. For the interested, try:

Plants for a Future - great website, but I double check their zones (always good to triple check)
Perennial Vegetables - book, available at the Ottawa library and website with some useful info.
The New Food Garden by Frank Tozer - a fantastic author that I HIGHLY recommend. This is a book combining small lot farming, permaculture and the pleasure of growing. Filled with information. I quickly tried to find a good, independent review but didn't come up with any in the five seconds that I have so please suggest a link or I'll try to write one soon.

P.S. If I haven't mentioned it recently, Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne's Dandelions. Head on over to check out some more harvests.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Year Rosettes = Second Year Seeds

Red Ursa Kale overwintered from seedling taken from my last place.

As you wander around your spring garden admiring daffodiles and shoots promising to be peony, hosta or daylily, you may also notice that some of your veggies survived. Some of these may be biennials that wait patiently until after the big chill to flower such as kale or beets. They might be perennials that grow fat little rosettes the first year like chicory or even an annual that you seeded late like lettuce. If you have room, let those little guys do what they do best, grow much bigger.

Staying your hand at weeding means that you have given them a chance to seed. If the population is big enough then you'll have a viable seed crop to sow or trade but saving once from a small population may allow you to select for a special characteristic like cold hardiness. Besides, some make great spices like caraway or mustard and delicious sprouts like onion and chard. It is not just you who will enjoy them in their full flowering glory. Many are nectar sources for beneficials that will help keep pests in check.


Sweet Cicely, a perennial member of the carrot family that thrives in dappled shade and tastes great like sugar coated anise from root to seed.

A list of treasures that may be waiting to regrow in your garden:

Alliums (Alliaceae):

  • Onions - Biennial. Let lots go to flower for good for good seed. Many alliums make yummy sprouts.

  • Leeks - Also, biennial and produce offsets at the base of the bulb that can be replanted.
  • Garlic - I always manage to find a few bulbs that I overlooked. Bulbing perennial. Topsetting bulbils can be harvested, and scapes are delicious. Let them grow through the year and you'll get a handfull of mini bulbs for replanting. You can also start garlic from the bulbils though it takes a few years to get full sized bulbs.

  • Of course, lots of perennials like garlic chives, regular chives, multipliers, shallots and walking onion

Goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae):

  • Beets & Chard- Biennial, makes nice baby greens or sprouts, huge sprawling seed stalks benefit from caging. They are wind pollinated and will cross with each other. Bientina has overwintered particularly well for me.

  • Spinach - Sexing is complex apparently so make sure you have a couple dozen will be needed for good seed set. I have so many spinach substitutes in the garden I rarely grow it.

  • Perennials like Good King Henry, Sorrel and Bloody Dock will be producing crispy greens right now.

Asters (Compositaceae):

  • Radicchio, Beligium Endive, Sugarloaf Chicory - Perennial, all C. intybus. Tall 'chicory' seedheads. Endive is an annual C. endivia and can cross according to Deppe's book***

  • Lettuce - Annual, self fertile and inbreeding so technically you only need one for good seed but more is always better. Let the finches distribute the seeds or save.

Cabbage Family (Brassicaceae):

  • Kale: Various species, including some that cross with Brassica oleracea, such as cabbage, and some are B. napus so will cross with other stuff like oilseed rape! They are reliable biennial returnees, especially the Russo-Siberian types, in my garden often forming a semi-feral population. Edible young seedpods, edible seeds and edible sprouts.

  • Cabbage, some kinds of broccoli: Even if they look very ragged, wait to see if they perk up or leaf out again. These are outcrossers and are often self incompatible so let as many go to seed as possible. Nice sprouts.

  • Chinese Greens: Lots of these are brassicas so look up the species to see who they are friendly with if you don't want crosses.

  • Turnips: Mine always turn to mush but if you got yours to overwinter or are replanting the last of your cold storage roots then like most root crops aim for letting a good dozen go to seed.

Carrot Family (Apiaceae):

  • Carrots of course: I get about a 50% suvival rate. You can dig these up, taste the end and replant the ones you like the best. Aim for as big a population as possible. Whether or not greens or sprouts are edible seems to depend on who you ask. If it's cottontail then the answer is yes.

  • Oyster root - Salsify & Scorzonera: Not only do these seem to reliably come back but you can eat the early spring shoots then the immature flowerheads or the flowers (the former purple, the latter yellow). Scorzonera is a perennial whereas salsify is a biennial. I think the sprouts are probably edible as the greens are and this is my rule of thumb but feel free to do this search for me as I've never tried them.

  • Parsnips: Some people get naturally seeding populations. Afterall, wild parsnip - pretty much the same as the domesticated variety* - is a common roadside weed.**

  • Parsley: both the root and various leaf varieties are quite hardy.

  • Need I say perennials again? Sweet Cicely and skirret are examples.

    * A note about biennials. Sometimes they will wait until the third year or even the fourth to flower. Some will flower two years in a row despite the fact that they are supposed to die back after setting seed. Go figure.
    **Always be cautious when harvesting carrot family weeds as some, like hemlock, are very deadly and others like giant hog's weed can cause serious burns.
    ***Carol Deppe's book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties can answer your pollination questions. Really well written book.


    The Sprout People: Lots of info in the Sprout School section

Monday, May 2, 2011

Will Work For Food - Art Project

Thought some of you might find this interesting:

Harvest for Stock Monday

Having just moved means I don't yet have lots of succulent mature perennial shoots but there are a few divisions that I planted last year who are giving up the goods as well as various wild plants. Also, lots of the seeds I scattered last fall have sprouted.

Lovage makes for a great stock plant. I find it a bit strong to use as a vegetable. Also harvesting dandelions, wild leeks, and parsley for a soup base.

Seeing Results: Fall Sowing

Fall Sowing is a natural way to start germinate seeds that require stratification, such as those that originate from temperate zones, are wild flowers or that self sow. After your garden cleanup, just prepare a seed bed, mark it (this is where I fail, though it does strengthen my identification skills) and sow. If you have mature plants already, cut the ripe seeds heads and either toss them where you want the seedlings to come up or crush and sprinkle them on the ground before composting the rest. It's a fast and easy way to get a headstart on the planting season.

Why do I always overseed? This is called hedging your bets and will require thinning. Turnip Rooted Chevril seedlings. Must be fall sown.

Edible Self Sowers:

The following (not an exhaustive list) have worked for me:

Corn Salad / Mache
Magenta Spreen (aka - giant lamb's quarters)
Dame's Rocket (spring greens are edible)
Chard - Bietina/perpetual spinach is the variety I've let self seed
Bulbing Fennel (regular fennel too I'm sure though I don't grow it)
Sunflowers - especially perennial kinds
Sweet Cicely
Lemon Balm (I like to prevent this as I don't use THAT much)
Violas including sweet violet - a very nice edible this time of year, and Johnny Jump Ups
Garlic and regular chives
Docks and Sorrels
Purslane - including selected varieties like Golden
Turnip rooted chevril

Sweet violets are a great groundcover and have edible leaves in the spring followed by edible flowers. They've grown happily for me in near full shade to near full sun, in various soil conditions.

There are lots more that others have had luck with such as New Zealand Spinach, Celery varieties, more brassicas so have an internet-look at the possibilities for your garden and lots self sow what you like to grow. You'll see that members of the carrot, cabbage, and goosefoot family are very well represented.

I also have various herbs and other vegetables that come back like most of the tomato family relataives - sunberry, tomato, potato, ground cherry - but some people may wish to remove these volunateers if they have disease issues. Vining crops will also often volunteer but as many people grow more than one of the same Species genus (Cucuribit maxima for example), they will result in crosses. Could be fun, and compost squash often grow great.

Many flowers like alyssum and coreopsis also self seed and might be a lovely addition to your sea of self seeded greens as long as you can tell the leaves apart! When managing your self sown border, you can let it have the wild look or selectively thin so that you have patches of the same plant or a few complementary plants. Stripes are nice too. Let the ones at the back develop their seedheads which are often shockingly tall compared to the juvenile leafy rosette. If you include a few taller flowering perennials like echinacea, they'll hide the sometimes unruly looking seed heads of chard and lettuce and prop up the gangly but attractive seedheads of plants like chicory and kale. Some plants, such as mint, you might want to cut back after the bees have their fun but before they set seed. Not only is mint invasive enough as it is but the seedlings are often inferior in taste.

If you have allowed your self sowers to add to the soil seed bank year after year but mulch consistently so that you might see less self sowers, stir up the soil in a patch and see what emerges. Last year, when I removed my vegetable garden and put in a yawn lawn to sell our property, among the grass and clover sprung up a salad bowl of goodness.


Wild Garden Seeds (recently Frank Morton was profiled in Mother Earth Magazine) sells a mix of feral edibles called an insectary mix which would be a great semi-wild border that would produce a nice bounty to boot!