Monday, May 31, 2010

Harvest Monday - 'Blue' Berries & Flower Power

I could post AGAIN about greens but you may either be sick of eating them (impossible) or have moved onto fruits like zuchinni or the cherished tomato.

So, instead I thought I'd treat you to a selection of edible flowers among the greens.


Thyme, mustard, sage, Enligh daisy (bellis perennis), violas, dianthus and roses with garlic chives, mustard, anise hyssop leaves, green sweet cicely leaves, magenta spreen, ginger mint, honeyberry and one alpine strawberry. I only got that one because the children weren't outside yet today.

Sprinkled liberally in the middle are berries, mostly haskaps, a 'blue' berry for spring.


Also known as honeyberry or edible blue-berried honeysuckle.

I had read such mixed reviews of Lonicera caerulea edulis so it took me several years to plant it. This is year two in the garden and the harvest was pretty excellent. The berries have a complex flavour but were a bit more sour than I would have liked. They may not have been quite ripe yet. Sprinkled with something sweet, they'd make an excellent dessert. Maybe a haskap/rhubarb/sweet cicely pie?


Honeyberries on the bush.


Positive press on Honeyberry / Haskap from DNA gardens
The Haskap Canada Association:

Note on edible flowers:

It is difficult to find a comprehensive list of edible flowers for many reasons including there the fact that there are so many flowers! Make sure you triple check references to edible flowers and are absolutely sure about their identification. It is a good idea to remove any pollen producing part as it may induce allergy unless you are sure about your reaction to it and the preparation of the pollen - cattail pollen is used a flour adulterant for example. When trying new foods, it's always best to go slow. Nibble a bit then spit out to see if you have any swelling or strange reaction. Next time, eat a bit and see how you react. Finally, eat a small meal. Of course, your level of comfort with a new food will depend on how familiar with it you are so you may skip some steps. Also, never eat a new food unless you are sure it is edible and you are positive about its identification (I know I already said that). These are not tips to trying a mystery plant. Certain plants are quite safe in small quantities but can cause upset in larger doses and this may vary from person to person and plant to plant. Okay now that you are too scared to eat anything other than carrots, relax.

Culinary Herbs of Canada by Small is a great resource.

List of Edible Flowers by Glen Brook Farm


Don't Miss This Reminders

June 1 - Hida Manns to give a talk on Organic Agriculture as a Buffer to Climate Change. June 1st at 7pm in the Grey Room at the Bronson Centre, 211 Bronson Avenue. Come out and say hi (I'll be introducing her)

June 5 - Native Plant Sale at the Wildlife Fletcher Garden

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Flowering Food - Spring's late blush

Spring may have another couple weeks to go but with the sweltering weather we have been having, the blooms are opening fast.

Rose buds are swelling and the Rosa rugosas have burst in much of the neighbourhood. I missed the first two blooms but below is a promise. Not only is this very hardy, disease resistant shrub attractive in early summer but they bear large, scarlet hips that remain on the shrub constrasting with their golden fall foliage. Ubiquitious in low maintenance, commercial plantings, they are a thorny, suckering groundcover, that is useful in areas you would like people to walk around.

Wouldn't you know it that I went to take a picture between blooms?

Just planted nearby is its dimunitive cousin, the strawberry. This time in a deep shade of pink. A running variety, it also acts as a groundcover. The floral display may not be long lived but heck, it's only a preview for the big berry show!

I think the variety is 'Red Flame' or something like that and admit I bought it for the flower colour so I have no idea if it is everbearing (probably) or June bearing. I find that most nurseries sell the all-season ones as it gives people the impression that they will be getting more. I like to have a good percentage of June bearers though so I can really indulge.

Continuing with the ruby theme, red valerian - Centranthus ruber - blooms a shocky magenta/red. Along with English daisy, this is one of my new favourite early salad greens. It has a reputation for self seeding and I hope it is warranted as it is lovely in drifts.

Pretty and tasty. Good combo.

Salsify - Tragopogon porrifolius - like morning glory, saves its show for the early risers. This plant is edible from its buds to its roots though they are said to turn woody after flowering.


I did get a blossom in full bloom but this picture just captivated me more with its petals just about uncurled.

Culinary thyme is an easy addition to any well drained garden. They have been long used as a decorative with low growing varieties making up patch works in place of lawn. There are types with wooly leaves, golden splashes and silver edges. Along with a backdrop of thymol, the flavour varies with floral or citrus hints. Richters Herbs have a good selection of Thyme


Delicate flowers abuzz with bugs.

One of my favourite edible landscaping plants is seakale - Crambe maritima. It produces edible 'asparagus' shoots in the spring, the leaves are edible though slightly tougher than kale, the immature heads can be eaten like broccoli. However, after seeing the beauty of this plant, you may have a hard time harvesting. I grow two varieties. The traditional Lily White used in the kitchen and the species which has purplish leaves. Use as a specimen plant or to bring contrast to plants with lighter textured leaves. It prefers well drained soil in full sun.


Here's authentic urban for you. My crappy car in the background.

Let's depart from the showy for a moment, to look at Good King Henry - Chenopodium bonus-henricus. Also eaten for its spring shoots, the flowers are not breathtaking but they sure are interesting. The tyical arrowshaped leaves of this goosefoot family member would make a nice foil for a short flowering plant or one with bare knees. It is commonly suggested that it be placed at the back of the border to hide its rangy nature but I find it not unattractive.

Loopy lines of green. These may have tipped over from flowering to seeding.

Back to shades of pink, I would describe this as a borderline edible as it is only the flowers that are used but Dianthus earns its place in the garden by having plenty of those and making a nice grey mat groundcover. The bitter white base and the calyx should be removed before eating.


Speaking of borderline edibles, here is Dame's Rocket - Hesperis matronalis - in the background behind a magnificent perennial kale, showing why people tend not to eradicate this weed from their yards and also why it is occasionally confused with phlox. The former having four petals and the later five.


Dame's Rocket is the purple flowers floating in the background.

Chives are a lovely companion with roses, often blooming at the same time. Alliums release chemicals that are supposed to deter many rose pests. They make a nice edge plant.


There was a buzzy little bee that would not cooperate for his closeup but here are the attracting flowers.

I thought my Turnip Rooted Chevril - Chaerophyllum bulbosum - had bit the dust so was happy to see it return this spring and hopeful that it would flower and produce seeds. What I did not expect was that it would turn out to be such a looker. It's not so much the flowers which are typical of the carrot family but the 4 foot, sturdy, purplish stems and strikingly cut foliage. Only the root is edible. The pretty foliage is not.


Umbels opening on turnip rooted chervril

Anything tasty looking pretty in your garden?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Harvest Monday - Rhubarb and Rainbows

There are lots of goodies in the garden including masses of rainbow greens, onions and today's harvest of rhubarb for some muffins.

Magenta Spreen: Chenopodium gigantium

Like its cousin, lamb's quarters - Chenopodium album, it excells at seeding but look at the seedlings!

Orach - Red and Gold: Atriplex hortensis

Another self sowing beauty which makes for a delicious cooked or fresh green rainbow.


My youngest, for scale, with a strange smile on her face. Mabye she's not sure about rhubarb muffins or maybe it was all those green gooseberries she insisted on eating?

Great rainbow greens:

Orach - comes in colours from gold, purple, red, magenta, green and in between
Chard - Bright Lights is a favourite or try beets like Bull's Blood
Mustard - Many asian greens come in shades of purple and pink
Chicory - look for red and variegated varieties.
Magenta Spreen - A towering plant once its mature and delicious
Amaranth - Gold, red, orange, variegated. Look for types for greens
Kale - purple, pale and green with purplish viens
Lettuce - more than I can describe
Fennel in bronze and green

Friday, May 21, 2010

Flowering Food - mostly in white

Here are this day's garden stars:

Strawberries are in bloom, some even in tiny baby fruits. Regular running strawberry makes a great groundcover and many of you may already have wild strawberry invading your lawn. For an attractive edger, try runnerless alpine strawberry. This picture of gaint strawberry shows well its relationship to the rose family. Keep your eyes peeled for the pink blossomed variety that will occasionally show up at nurseries.

Giant strawberry has giant blooms. Very different from the demure flowers of alpine strawberry.

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is one of my favourite perennial edibles. It grows and flowers in part shade. The whole plant is edible tasting of sweet anise from its fleshy root through its leaves, green immature seeds that taste like candy to the mature black seeds ground for spice. There is also a native that shares the same common name: Osmorhiza longistylis.

Sweet cicely just before the height of bloom. The ferny foliage adds a delicate touch to this crowded corridor.

Blueberry blossoms en mass are one of those lean down to take a look flowers. They are dainty pinkish white bells that are irresitable to bees. A pretty plant for acidic soil with good moisture holding capacity, they are real stunners in the fall when their leaves turn bright red.

Young blueberry plant alongside iris.

Cabbage and friends are all in shades of buttery yellow. Here the thick purple leaves of red rock mammoth cabbage have sported towers of contrasting pale yellow. I also have bok choy, savoy cabbage and land cress in bloom. Cold resistant brassicas make wonderful additions to both the spring and fall garden. Don't rip them out when you are done with them but leave them when they bolt to produce spray upon spray of waving yellow flower, followed by seed.

Someone came round and asked what that purple leafed flower was. Yes, it's cabbage.

Quirky Sperling Toga Onion sports a spiky hairdo promising seeds for a trade in the near future. This is a very hardy perennial onion that gives greens while the year is long in a coldframe, along with providing a vertical accent for the front of the border.

Sperling toga onion is going to flower. Oh the seeds we shall reap! Yay!

Breaking up the predominance of white, are two lovely little flowers: Johnny Jump ups (Viola tricolor) which add a touch of rainbow to salads or desserts with their edible flowers and the tea plant Catmint (Nepeta cataria). Both of these make lovely edging plants for mostly sun that spill over walkways and self seed charmingly into little nooks and crannies.

Soft purple contrasts with sunny yellow in the children's garden.

One of my new favourite early spring salad plants, English Daisy (Bellis Perennis) is a common lawn weed in certain areas and I wish that I could say the same is true here. I will have to content with the more self controlled growth in my garden of this large flowered variety. Here pictured with the definitely less well behaved Sweet Violet (Viola odarata).

Densely spaced spoon leaves of English daisy with the large violets.

And lastly for today, Rhubarb's foamy blooms light up in the bright morning sunlight. One of best of the strong foliage plants. It is a mighty presence in my garden with leaves the size of placemats or larger taking up 6 square feet of space.


Do you have some food that is flowering in your garden?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tomato Tuesday - Time to get Independent

The weather stations all agree and the May 2-4 weekend is fast approaching. Looks like there is no frost on the horizon so I kicked my tomato babies out into the garden. As I was planting, I noticed something very interesting:

Arctic Queen shows off its flower buds.

What's that? Flowers? Oh yes my friends... and it's not even June. I'd just like to stop here and remind myself that this was an experiment in starting tomatoes inside/outside. This is an alteration of the wintersown technique I use when impatient or with some tender plants. Seeds, sometimes prespouted, are sown in wintersown containers and left outside during the day but brought in at night if frost threatens. I figured it would be an easy way to do tomatoes as I have taken down my seed starting shelves in preparation to move - no time soon as it turns out but I digress...

Tomatoes planted in an old pond area that has been filled in. My veggie garden has been converted to yawn to sell the house.

As it seems that we won't be finding our rural slice of the pie in a timely fashion, I also figured I would sow other tenders like beans, and summer squash. I'm hoping we'll be out of here by the time a butternut is nicely mature.

By the way, technically this could be risky as there *might* still be a late frost but I have frost clothes and cloches if such an event happened. The average last frost date here is actually in early May though it varies greatly. Most years, I put out my tenders mid-May.

Planting times in Ottawa.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Harvest Monday - Something Creepy

Don't worry, it's not crawly but if you have ever tried to eradicate it then you may shiver when I say its name: Creeping Bellflower - Campanula Rapunculoides - otherwise known variously as Cancer-of-the-Garden, Hellcat Bellflower and Harebell*.

How often does your urban harvest fill your wheelbarrow...

An embarassingly short number of years ago, someone told me to stop pulling the weed from beneath my hedge as it was a pretty wildflower. I didn't recognize the basal leaves so I let it be and it matured into a not unattractive tower of purplish-blue bells. Shortly afterwards, I discovered its true identity and tried in vain to pull it up, but this ingenious invasive has a clever trick. Its taproot and future source of its spawn is connected to its many tangling runners by brittle thin roots. If you weren't familiar with its anatomy, you would pull up one its clones and find some weak roots dangling from it., no hunk a taproot like in a dandelion giving you a clue to its power source beneath. You might think that you had got it all. Ha! Not only does it propogate vegetatively but also by seed and its flowers are pretty enough that some people will leave it in their garden... perhaps feeling that this naturalized European native belongs here as much as the dandelion. Like the latter, it is here to stay and also like the latter, you can delight in devouring it.

You can see the tenuous connection between the taproot and the roots to the above ground part.

Creepy Bellflower is edible from its sizeable leaves to its starchy taproot(s).** If you like the taste, you might even have the incentive to hunt them down into the depths of soil. Before I tried the taproot, I was imagining how excited I'd be if my potatoes went feral like this. After I sauteed them with a little butter and drizzled them with paprika, salt and honey, my verdict is: "Meh, not bad. Good texture, slightly bitter, inoffensive taste." The typical description is more positive such as "nutty, crunchy flavour. A delight in salads" or as in A Field Guide to Edible Plants: Eastern and Central North America, "The taste is slightly sweet, suggesting parsnips."

The next day, I cooked up some of the plentiful greens, cut with an equal portion of baby kale, in stock and mixed with toasted sunflower seed and pepper. All this was put between two toasted slices of bread. They were pretty good, not bitter at all. Again, the adjective inoffensive comes to mind as they had no strong flavour.

So do I recommend Creepy Bellflower? Well, I wouldn't plant it. For those that already have it then just remember that like the proverbial pot of rice/oil/whatever, empty it as much as you want, there'll always be more and for a food plant, that's a quality we can appreciate.

* Also known as European Bellflower, Rampion Bellflower
** I have seen a couple references to eating the flowers but not enough that I would try it without more double checking.


Do I have Creeping Bellflower? Ministry of Agriculture of Ontario
Plants for a Future lists some edible Bellflowers
Oft mentioned on the web, true Rampion - Campanula rapunculus - is not the same plant as the above plant. Instead, it is a biennial with a radish tasting taproot (so I'm told, my seeds never germinated) that enticed Rapunzul's father to harvest either to help her mother in childbirth or for food. I've read both versions. (Some of you botanical latin geeks might find it interesting that 'loides' bit means 'is like').
For some fun, read Dave's Garden's page on the plant and hear some vitriol against it.


In other news, I owe you some posts:

Tomato Tuesday - Frost tender veggies that you know and love
Alliums Part II, Wild Onions - I haven't forgotten!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don't miss this update

If you can drop everything and haven't heard of this before, then go get chicken and meet with Cluck Ottawa to talk urban poultry.

More Don't Miss This

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fungi instead of Fertilizer - Hida Manns

I first met Hida Manns at the Eco Farm Day 2009 with her discussion on what I called the 'weedy garden' or the technique of planting through mulch and letting the weeds grow, and was looking forward to her discussion on Mycorrhizal Colonization at Eco Farm Day 2010. It was a standing room only talk that did not disappoint.

She kindly agreed to an interview.

Potatoes growing in Hida Manns' home garden.

How did you come to study alternative agricultural practices?

My studies on alternative agriculture were stimulated from a desire to explain many experiences. When we built our own home in the country, I put in a garden and bought my first goats. Following years of reading on natural health for my family, I applied the same principles to my garden and goats. Instead of buying fertilizer, I read all the literature on gardening, including Ruth Stout’s method. The goats supplied ready composted hay that evolved into a garden system, that admittedly, was not productive in the first few years. I also read widely, including the work by de Bairacli Levi on raising animals without pharmaceuticals. From her principles, and my knowledge of food chemistry, I evolved my own intestinal parasite remedy for the goats.

Your talk at Eco Farm Day 2010 was about mycorrhizal fungal colonization. For those that may not know, what are they?

Mycorrhizal fungi are a symbiotic association of a fungus with the roots of a plant. It is believed that plants were able to evolve to live on land with the assistance of the fungus. The fungi produce a mycelium, which is like an enlarged root system, but at a smaller diameter scale (< color="#006600">According to the literature, how may mycorrhizal fungal colonization affect plant growth and soil (texture, moisture retention and so on)?

Due to the high variation in plant and soil response to mycorrhizal colonization, it is difficult to give specific benefits that apply to all. In general, mycorrhizal colonization re-allocate the carbon from photosynthesis to increase below ground carbon. Roots tend to be shorter and thicker, and plant growth likewise. It depends on how dependent the plant is on the mycorrhiza given all environmental conditions. The major finding from my research is that mycorrhizas are instrumental in preventing loss of soil structure, and therefore are very important in maintaining sustainability of the soil to hold water and nutrients. Many studies have found that photosynthesis increases with mycorrhizal plants, and the amount of soluble carbon in the soil is also increased. This may be the simple answer to increased nutrient uptake, plant growth, and soil aggregate changes.

Perennial 'weeds' growing between mulched beds in Manns' garden.

The title of your talk was provocatively named Farming with fungi instead of fertilizer. According to your research, how does fertilizer affect mycorrhizal colonization?

The title of the talk was meant to imply that the benefits of mycorrhizal colonization can result in net productivity similar to fertilizer addition. You have brought up an interesting point, where there is conflicting evidence on the interaction between fertilizer and fungi. Briefly, a small amount of NPK fertilizer will increase hyphae growth in nutrient limited conditions. However, it is commonly found that high NPK inhibits mycorrhizal colonization. In a small trial growing flax in small pots in the growth chamber, using soil from organic rotations following wheat, I found the addition of standard amounts of P and N did not increase colonization; mycorrhizal colonization was 10-20% lower.

I know that some people talk about adding mycorrhizal fungi when planting. What are your thoughts on garden inoculation?

My experience with mycorrhizal colonization suggests that creating supportive conditions maintains an adequate colonization. Specific practices would be mulching, keeping a winter cover crop, leaving roots in the soil over winter, or as I do, leave the alleys in perennial grasses (permanent host). The presence of a constant host (eg: a highly mycorrhizal plant like clover) is most important to maintain quick colonization. The times when inoculation would be advantageous would be when soil has been stockpiled and lost it’s microbial activity, or when soil has been sterilized, or after conditions that would have reduced mycorrhizal spores such as a non-host plant of broccoli or oil-seed radish.

I suspect that you don’t use chemical fertilization. Can you describe your garden for us?

I have attached a few pictures, and hope they are worth a thousand words. Instead of tilling, I use mulch beds to grow most vegetables, with the exception of seeds, peas and beans where I lift the sod manually for the length of the row, and sow the seeds on the top of ridges, with the trenches filled with compost. The alleys between these rows of crops are left in perennial grasses/weeds (not the annual ones). I trim the grasses regularly to feed the goats and chickens. Otherwise, the only work is popping the plants into the mulch, and harvesting. Potatoes work especially well. The mulch/weed combination acts as moisture retention, nutrient recycling, insect predator habitat, and disease protection.

Healthy looking tomato plants getting ready to ripen in Manns' garden.

Further Information from Hida Manns

Ruth Stout: Now to have a green thumb without an aching back: A new method of mulch gardening.

Juliette de Bairacli Levy: The complete herbal handbook for farm and stable.

Mycorrhizal Symbiosis, by Smith and Read, 2008

DOK trials: A long-term agricultural trial in Switzerland comparing bio-dynamic, Bio-organic and Konventional methods

Mader, P., Edenhofer, S., Boller, T., Wiemken, A., Niggli, U., 2000 Arbuscular mycorrhizae in a long-term field trial comparing low-input (organic, biological) and high-input (conventional) farming systems in a crop rotation Biology Fertility Soils 31:150–156.


Ottawa Gardener gives you more homework :

Routh Stout from Mother Earth News

Lasanga Gardening primer with techniques for different common veggies

Monday, May 10, 2010

Harvest Monday - Soil Seed Bank

"You reap what you sow," said a farmer

Yummy self sown salad plants.

"1 year in seed, 7 years in weed," said the gardener

Going clockwise from 12 o'clock, we have mustard, orach, magenta spreen, bietina (type of chard), coriander and kale. Just a selection of self starters in the garden.

"Like money in the bank," said the plant...

By letting my salad plants set seed and sow themselves, I'm filling the soil seed bank with plants that I want to withdraw. All these babies were taken from the area that I have recently reseeded for lawn to sell our house. It used to be a vegetable garden. The larder was so full of these desirables that I haven't yet removed a weed that wasn't edible.


I'm excited to announce that I will be uploading an interview with Hida Manns about Mycorrhizal fungi this week. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tomato Tuesday*


These tomatoes were indoor / outdoor sown and are now sizing up so have been transplanted into recycled yoghurt pots.

Speaking of Tomato plants, if you ahven't started any than Yuko's Open Pollinated Seed is having her annual Heirloom Tomato & Perennial Plant Sale on the weekends of May 15 & 16 and May 22 & 23.

* A good alliteration has surely been used before and this is no exception. I also plan on adopting TT days to document the countdown to fresh tomatoes, and beyond!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Harvest Monday - Dandelion power

One mother of a dandelion... many dandelions hiding out in the lungwort.

Yeah, I knew that you knew that we all know that dandelions are edible but have you ever eaten one? Lately, the turf has contracted a rash of brash yellow and people are complaining or delighting depending on their perception of this most amazing weed.

I get that even if you have fond memories of blowing those dancing ballerinas in the air as a child that you may not want your green concrete to consist primarily of Taraxacum officinale. Perhaps you would like other species to share some space like ox-eye daisy, violets, plaintain, chickweed or even grass. With that in mind:

How to Use Dandelions
How to Abuse Dandelions

And some other things I harvested: rhubarb, mint, garlic chives... my youngest was going to show off the rhubarb but she got distracted by a pill bug.

How to Use Dandelions

Dandelion greens are very good for you and they taste it too. To temper its bitter tendencies, eat the first flush of growth in the spring or blanche it like endive by turning a pot upside down on top of its crown for a week or so until tender, pale leaves pop up. Or do it like cauliflower and tie the leaves together to blanche the heart. This will lower the good greenness content but its better than finding it inedible. Some people add it to green juice or other leaf mixes in small quantities. Boiling it in a change of water will also lower the bitterness but also the nutrition value. As is generally the case with greens, they are better - ie, less tough and bitter - before the flowers arrive. Then you can pick the flowers to sprinkle in dishes or batter and fry as tempura. A local wild plant enthusaist, Martha Webber, apparently makes Dandelion Jam. Of course, it probably hasn't escaped you that there is such a thing as dandelion wine.

The pill bug. Notice her contented smile? She terrorizes them by overturning rocks and logs and then getting them to go visit pill bugs under other rocks and logs. Yes, I know the image doesn't match the text but I figured I'd try and merge two posts into one for effeciency (and confusion) sake.

The root can be dug and roasted until brittle to grind as a coffee substitute. You can also cook it as a vegetable like parsnip though I have never tried this. I'd love to hear experiences. You can store the roots with chicory and others in your cellar (or back of your fridge) to force in the winter. Bury the roots in moist sand with the crown sticking out. Either place on a window sill for bitter bite, or place in the dark to grow what looks like a curled cousin of Belgian endive.

How to Abuse Dandelions

Rather like using them, this requires a bit of harvesting though you may choose to put them in a plastic bag and let them bake dead before adding them to the compost to enrich your soil. You could probably also stew them in water to make an enriching tea for your plants rather like comfrey tea. In your enthusiasm, don't feel the need to be too thorough about their removal as they are an early food source for bees and other beneficials. That said, the likelihood of eradication is slim so pull away.

The dandelion blossoms were added to a veggie quiche along with these microgreens - thinnings of self sown 'Red Ursa' kale, 'Osaka' mustard, and 'Magenta Mountain' orach.

Here's how to lower the population of dandelion in your green concrete. Wait for a day where your soil is at its most diggable. Get a good dandelion digger and a shovel. Make sure you have a strong back. Dig out as much root as possible. Curse that it snapped. It will almost always do so unless it is very small. After you have aerated your lawn in this manner, top dress the area with compost or other good 'soil' and reseed with a mixture of grass and clover.

If you haven't gotten around to doing this, then snap off the flowers whenever you see them to prevent them from seeding. The healthier your grass, the less likely it will be overrun with weeds but I'm not promising anything.

Another alternative is to cover over the whole area and plant an edible garden. Maybe one with a few dandelions...


Wild Man Steve Brill talks about how to cook up dandelions