Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice - Light in the Garden

In honour of the days getting longer and the promise of glorious growing ahead, a post on light.

For most veggie growers, light is a big preoccupation. Do you have enough in that hidden corner of the yard that has been given the utilitrian task of raising edibles? Is it the right kind? Is it morally wrong to curse the beautiful shade tree that overhangs most of your yard?

The Canopy

My answers would be why are you hiding your edibles? Yes, you can grow edibles in most sun conditions but they might not be tomatoes - See Edibles for Shade. Trees have surprising benefits, especially if they are located to the north of the garden.

Deciduous trees provide a thick layer of mulch every fall enriched by nutrients their roots have liberated from the subsoil. Members of the walnut family can cause poor growth in many plants but there are those that are resistant to jugalone such as both black raspberry (grows under our 100 tree grove of Black Walnuts) and black elderberry - some others to try. Hopefully you'll be getting edible nuts from the tree too.

Some, like Norway maple in my experience, can create dry, poor soil with their thick mat of feeder roots under and beyond their dripline. If you are going to grow a garden at the base of a tree that lets a good amount of light under its canopy but has poor growth and dry soil under it, think hardy plants like violets (viola odorata: leaves edible in spring, flowers edible) and hostas (young shoots edible) and keep it continually mulched. Over the years, you can probably incorporate more delicate plants as the soil becomes rich. We currently have a 13 acre maple bush on our property covered variously filled with an understory of spring ephemerals like dog's tooth violet (edible but as I understand it a starvation food) and hepatica followed by woodland grasses in sunnier spots and various others like native sweet cicely.

To increase light, you can limb up a tree by cutting off the lowest branches. Do so sparingly not only for the tree but also for your own enjoyement. We had a huge specimen of a Little Leaf Linden in our old front yard (Linden leaves are edible in the spring and their flowers are used to make a honey scented tea though use sparingly as they have medicinal affects) with branches that bowed to the ground. Cutting up on one side made an entrance into an enchanted space filled with bulbs in the spring.

Evergreen trees will create a thick weed/lawn supressent mulch beneath them but they provide year round shelter from the blowing winds and snow. Use these acidifying needles to enrich a bed of blueberries and plants that require a low soil pH. Their branches can also be used to shelter tender plants like some roses (petals are useful and rugged rugosa produces choice hips) and overwintering cabbages.

All trees moderate the climate. Their leaves shed water by transpiration and their structure breaks up howling winds. One interesting affect I've noticed in the spring is that their roots act like heating cables under the soil melting away the snow. Conversly, an area sheltered by trees like where I live now holds onto its insulating snow longer in the winter than the surrounding open farm fields keeping heavy frosts out of the soil and off the dormant plants. In combination, trees mean that the snow melts at a time more auspicious for the understory.

Light's faces

Light dances from Easterly to Westerly across the buildings lighting up nooks and crannies throughout the day. Your house might not neatly line up with the four cardinal directions but the sun will play across its angles in a predictable way throughout the day and across the seasons.

East facing gardens soak up the morning sun, drying morning dew quickly which might help thwart fungal disease. They can be beautifully planted with morning blooming flowers like morning glory. Lots of bolting greens like coriander and asian greens can benefit from shade during the hottest part of the day.

West facing gardens get the hot afternoon sun. Though they are considered less valuable as places for growing vegetables if you have to choose, I had a thriving sunset garden full of currants, jeruselum artichokes, walking onions, daylilies, bellflowers, rhubarb, garlic chives, and much more.

South facing gardens are the goal of most of us northerners. Assuming there are no barriers, they get the most sunlight so are best for the real heat hogs like eggplants, peppers, and sweet potatoes. Because the angle of sunlight in the northern hemisphere tilts toward the south in the winter, such a garden gets the most sun all year round. This can mean fluctuating temperatures which can be determinental to plants if the ground freezes and thaws causing heaving of roots and cracking of trunks. Fruit trees or other flowering / fruiting plants may suffer losses from early flowering followed by late frosts.

If you have south facing garden, why not go all out and create a xeriscape filled with north hardy cacti like prickly pear and dryland flowers like poppy mallow. You could incorporate stone pathes or stone mulch or just place smooth rocks decoratively around. On nice spring days, it will be a place to soak up the sun but you may want to avoid it on the hottest days of the year. See drought tolerant plants for the north.* Alternatively, ring with friendly shrubs to cool it down a bit and plant a tropical inspired garden with cannas (I've heard that at least some have edible tubers - something to explore at a later date) and cardoon (very decorative and edible leaf petioles) for the summer.

North facing gardens are often considered the bane of gardeners with their dark, damp aspect. These will receive the least sun theoretically but they do have their uses. There are plethora of beautiful shade and woodland plants. For choosing edible varieties, look through native edible plant guides. If you live in a place with dry soil like I do, then they are often filled with luscious green growth in areas outside of the deepest shade. Of course in near full shade, these can be ideal spots for growing mushrooms.

Slopes: All the above also applies to slopes only more so. A slope to the south will amplify heat creating a microclimate that behaves as if it is several zones south especially if planted above frost pockets. Similiarly, northern slopes will be slow to warm in the spring.


Just because the sun shines does not mean that it hits the ground. The Urban Forest is filled with not only trees but parking garages, apartment buildings and parked trucks. These light impenetrible barriers are not the same as the shifting light of the deciduous forest but rather create continuous shade. One advantage to these barriers is that they can create sheltered spots. In the eastern side of the house, it can block the predominantly westerly winds or on the southern side of the house, the northern winds are thwarted. Use these sheltered spots to put plants that would have questionable survival if left out in the drying winds or that are pushing zones. The heat of the house will also help keep the ground from freezing as deep. In fact, think of the urban forest as filled with these pockets of insulating hot air.

The most difficult spots can be treated like a north facing garden or the deep forest. Grow hostas (spring shoots are edible) and ferns (ostrich and cinnamon produce edible fiddleheads). Think of it as a glade of rich foliage. Also, try some greens, I had luck with parsley, chives and others in a garden against a north wall. You can paint the wall white to increase the reflected light. Water too can be a useful reflective surface.

Winter's Sun

I'm not sure if it is just me but I find references to creating a winter garden amusing. Images of ice scuptured into flowers come to mind though it is meant to invoke pictures of evergreen foliage and grasses sparkling with frost. The amount of snow we normally get makes a 'winter' garden in the normal sense a little less likely though I did see one straight faced reference to using shadow such as the uniform slats of a picket fence to 'decorate' a snowy garden.

Near the winter solstice, the sun traces its most southerly path. If you are putting in a new garden, know that where the sun falls now may not be where it falls in the height of summer. Imagine an arch across the sky and raise that toward the top to get a sense of where it is more likely to hit during summer. Not only that but shadows are longer in the winter than they are in the summer by many times.

When placing a polytunnel for the winter season, this might be to your advantage. In my old place, the greenhouse was placed beneath a tree to the north of the garden. In the winter, the tree's shadow was behind the greenhouse so it was in full sun whereas in the summer, that area was in dappled shade. I started greens in that moist place which grew to fruition in the full sun of fall and early spring. Having a shaded greenhouse in summer might be useful if your summers are very warm as they can be here so that the plants inside don't overheat (you should always have a way to vent your season extension buildings) but in cloudy cool zones such as near the coast where many heat loving crops like melons are grown 'under glass' you will want to choice something without shadow.

Gardens around here do suffer from being a sorry sight in the months of November before the snow falls and in the long spring after the snow melts sometime in late March until the plants really get going in May. Your salvation in the late fall could be grasses or other plants with decorative seedheads, and evergreens like juniper. Vegetables that come into their own this season are the brassicas such as brussel sprouts, cabbage and asian greens like mustards and some alliums like leeks, especially purple leafed varities. Some flowers like violas and calendula can add colour. Early spring is a time for early risers. Nothing lifts the spirits like the appearance of green spikes from the walking onion, tulips and trilliums (edible shoots but why would you eat such pretty things?)

Summer's Rays

The fact that our summers start with long days which shorten after the summer solstice around June 21st is significant for what we can grow. This day length difference is more dramatic the further north you go. Many plants use the changing daylength to coordinate their flowering and fruitig. When you get a plant from a different region that doesn't flower until days are short, you may not get many days to enjoy their flower and you can forget about fruit or seeds.

You'll notice that some fruits like strawberries and raspberries will be spring bearing, double bearing in the spring and fall or 'day nuetral' or everbearing. Onions too must be selected for their sun preference. In the north, we want long day onions whereas in the south they use short day varieties. In fact, if you can, find out what latitude the onion works best in for the most luck in growing big, heatlhy bulbs.

If you have a hankering for growing a rare tuber from far flung places - like Oca - look for one that has been selected to be more day nuetral or to start flowering/tuber growth/fruiting early. You could try and trick your plant into doing its thing by excluding light in the right amounts.

Solar Input grows Plants

One of the reasons that varieties adapted to coastal regions with their thin sun doled out sparingly through the clouds do well up here in the north is because we can get about the same solar input. The total amount of sun energy hours ripens the crop and is the reason that I am often hunting pepper varieties that do well in England. They often do better here with our blazing sunny summers even though our growing seasons are much shorter. On the other hand, this will not work as well to crops that typically do better in cooler temperatures.

The shifting amount of sunlight does have one obvious effect of relevance to gardeners that like to plan a whole year's harvest. Fall gardens take a bit longer to mature than their the optimistic predictions on the seed package. If I remember correctly, season extension gardening guru Coleman suggests adding two weeks to the Days to Maturity estimate when planning a fall garden.

Bringing us back to the Winter Solstice

One tradition for some gardeners is to wintersow promises of spring on this day. This is a technique to grow plants that can either take the cold or need cold to germinate. Today, on the other hand, I plan on potting up some dwarf cherry tomatoes to see if I can get a little holiday indoor red and green during this season of cold and dark.

Jugalone resistant companion planting studies

Path of sunlight at different latitudes - creates a chart

Sunset/sunrise calculator - National Research Council of Canada: where the sun rises and set, the path it follows and the length of shadows. Very interesting.

I was rushed through this post as I am setting up my new computer today (old one is very old) so I'll be back to add pictures, more links and examples (like you needed to read an even longer post!) and check for errors/typos. Feel free to help point out my mistakes!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Harvesting icy vegetables Monday

The snow has melted which is not really a great thing for the veggies hugging the ground for warmth but it does mean that I can see them. So I gathered a few to bring in for supper.

Icy cabbage, huddling close to the land cress, can't-kill-me dandelion, shivering green onions, fainting Johnny jump up flowers, long suffering bietina, chicory-cicles, spiffy spinach, winter lettuce, still perky purple peacock flowerbuds, can-take-any-weather kale, and sturdy sage.

Otherwise known as RRMxSM F1 cabbage, belle isle upland cress, common dandelion, can't remember which one green onion, Viola tricolor mix flowers, bietina chard, sugarloaf chicory, rumpled leaf spinach, winter lettuce, purple peacock kale-broccoli, rainbow lacinato kale and red ursa kale, and common culinary sage.

These were combined with some apples mellowing in storage from the fall harvest.

Lots 'o apples take over a room.

To make a lovely coleslaw.


I haven't mentioned it in awhile but Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne's Dandelions. It's a place to share your harvest whether it be a few precious peas grown in a pot to quarter acre of corn.

In other news, I have enough tomato requests to send out the first batch of seeds. They might take a bit longer than normal what with the holiday rush. There are more if anyone else wants to give a tomato (or eight) a home. Don't forget to look on the right hand side bar for my regular trade/give away list as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tomato Seed Trade

Anyone up to giving some of my tomato seeds a new home? I've gone through my seeds and I am embarrased to say that the list is nine pages long (yes single space, normal font). At any rate, I thought I'd thin out the Solanum lycopersicum section. I'll be growing out some of these so quantities will vary. No trade or postage required but if you are in a sharing mood, I've listed what I'm looking for below.

Tomatoes available:

Lots of interest in re-homing those tomatoes so updated list follows:

Gold Nugget Cherry
Purple Smudge
Yellow Brandywine - all out
Italian Friend - ?
Tommy Toe
Teton or something like it
Brown Berry
Mortgage Lifter, pale leaf - very old seed
Novosadski jabujar
Lutescent - very old seed
Black Cherry
Red Cluster Pear - all out
Phoenix Pink Mix
Yellow Grape
Sub-arctic - all out
Smokey Mountain
Cheetham’s Potato Leaf - all out
Giallo a Grappoli
Aussie - all out
Red Robin - all out
Rondoc - all out
Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry
Chocolate Cherry
OSU x Green Zebra
Principe Borghese
Hundreds and Thousands - all out
Purple Calabash - all out
Velvet Red - all out
Bushy Charbarovsky - all out
Dwarf Champion
Window Dressing - Wagner
OSU x Make my day
Make my day
Sweet Cassidy
Tigerella - all out
Yellow Grape Tomato
Tiny Tim
San Pedro
Bradley - all out

If you're offering, here's some of My Want List

Cucumbers: prolific and early
Beans: very early 'green' eating type
Dandelion: anything unusual in flower or leaf form
Red stemmed chicory
New Zealand Spinach
Red Malabar Spinach
Edible Hibiscus - sunset, cranberry, other
Skirret clone


Email me - right side bar with your address and list of tomato dreams.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Harvesting for the Holidays Monday

Today we harvested our Christmas tree from the small group of spruce planted, I think, for that purpose. Most are a bit overgrown so work better as an animal refuge rather than as a holiday decoration. My girls told me we'll have to plant some more. Great idea!

Youngest is holding the top of this young spruce affected by spruce bud worm.

Other things you can do with woody debris (that is not part of the Walnut family unless you plan on using it around a planting that is jugalone tolerant) from your yard:

1. Use it to start a compost pile. Criss cross the branches for the base to improve drainage.
2. Build a brush pile, in a damp spot if you are concerned about fire, as an animal shelter. Note that you will probably shelter things that eat your plants too but the diversity is good right! Besides, in the city, rabbits mostly ate my weeds. I think they were on to something. uses this system to recycle invasive Norway Maple.
3. Dig a trench and pile them in, covering them with soil. They will rot down creating an organic rich bed. Especially useful in areas with thin, poor soil. See hugelkultur in all its variations. Here's a nice one where they show a lasagna style bed built with sticks.
4. Bushy branches are great as pea sticks and the thicker ones make a nice trellis. Some lovely examples at Allotment Forestry.
5. Large branches can be used to edge a path and small ones can be laid down like wood mulch to be crunched underfoot.
6. Bundle them up and innoculate with mushroom spores, place in a damp spot. Let me know how well this works!
7. Use as kindling than use the ashes as ammendments for soil. Safety concerns include: wood that has been contaminated with chemicals, heavy metal uptake of trees, making the soil too alkaline. I'll have to let you do your own research on this one.
8. Use feathery pine branches as protection for plants less tolerant to hard freezes and oscillating temperatures. They will help hold on to the insulating snow.

P.S. Yes, we're still harvesting vegetables:

My littlest making her happy, funny face while eating Purple Peacock Brocokale intended for dinner.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Harvesting Cold Day Salads Monday

The garden is a luscious salad bar this time of year until the real cold and snow hits which could be any time now. We are gathering cold hardy lettuce, kale, cabbage, fennel, coriander, kale, asian greens like mustards and bok choi, kale, arugula, the first corn salad/mache,* herbs, onions, more kale, bietina (particularly hardy chard in my experience) and chicories like radicchio.

Beautiful heading raddichio. I sprinkled handfuls of a collection of old seed beneath the apple trees last fall so I couldn't tell you the exact variety but it was tasty!

In fact, I debated calling this post for the love of chicory. Even the deer have expressed their appreciation by nibbling off the tops of some beautiful red heads revealing their mottled interiors. At least they left the roots to grow again next year. It wasn't until I started growing them that I learned to appreciate their pleasingly bitter taste from the deceptively named sugarloaf to the deep reds of classic radicchio to the buttery yellow of forced Belgium endive.

What's not to love? They are perennials.** In their first year, all going well, they produce heads that can be as lovely as flowers in the fall garden. In their second year, they produce a tower of sky blue flowers rather like the wild chicories that you may see along the roadway and like those wild flowers, they will happily seed themselves nearby the mother plants. These self sown seedlings along with those I've started in situ in the fall, have produced some of the most beautiful first year heads. Subsequent years will produce more greens and roots.

At my old place, sugarloaf chicory often made its way into the yawn. It's easy to remove but I often left it, getting a kick out of the contrasting giant apple green leaves. Cutting back the flowerheads prevents this or just aim them in a more appropriate direction.

You can eat the outer leaves but they are quite bitter or wait for cool temperatures to increase their sugar content. Digging up and storing the roots in the cellar will provide you with a winter feast of chicons - forced heads - at a time of year when fresh vegetables are thin on the ground. If you can't wait, then you can blanch the inner growing leaves by upturning a bowl or pot on them. This works for dandelions too.

Though they make a lovely base or complement for a salad, my favourite use is in pasta dishes. Fried lightly with onion, with or without other vegetables, then layered in a cheesy lasagna is delicious. The bitterness is transformed into depth. If you enjoy the way they cut sweet, then stir fry or grilling is also a nice option. Or layer raw on some fresh fall apples atop a shredded head of sugarloaf and a sprinkle of grated cheese.

This picture is taken later in the fall than the previous and you can see the deepening of colour in the heads.

Even my children will eat it though not on the plate. There is something about that circular eating zone that changes vegetables from tasty trail snack to dreaded barrier against leaving the table. The other day, my youngest was cutting up a sugarloaf with the odd leaf making its way into her mouth. I said, "You like chicory!" She smiled and replied "no" while continuing to chew.

* My corn salad is off to a slow start at the new place. I know that once it starts to self seed, I'll be in the corn salads for years but I sure do miss its mild flavour now. If you have a cold frame/polytunnel, you can harvest it almost all year too! The exception is probably after its seeded in summer along with days that your door is frozen shut. Otherwise, it's extremely cold hardy.
** I've also heard short-lived perennial. It may be but as I always have youngsters taking over from their flagging parents, I haven't noticed.

There are all kinds of chicory from loose leaf to ones with thick stems to those with tight conical or more pointed heads. Berton Seeds will give you a sense of their diversity.


!!Happy b-day to my baby gardeners who are 6 and 8 today!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sorry for the disruption in your regular layout

I'm working on a new one so this blog might do funny things over the next few days.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Root of all Harvest Mondays

I had a nice harvest of parsnip that were grown in combination with Swiss Chard. Half the row was left in the ground to use in the spring and for seed.*

The details of roots dug:

I've been digging up roots while the ground is unfrozen to store in our cellar - not quite of the root kind as it's located in our basement so though it is insulated and cooler than the rest of the house, it's not particularly humid but I have stored in such conditions before with a fair amount of luck.

Roots represented for our winter harvest hopes include: carrot, beets, parsnips, winter 'daikon' radish, horseradish and jeruselum artichoke. Also packed away are dandelion roots, chicory, and celariac for forcing. Potted up for greens are swiss chard, bulb fennel and cardoon. I've also got some canna and dahlia bulbs (both technically edible - I've not tried them yet) and some gladiolas resting the cold away.

At the far left are trimmed cardoon leaves with some small, self seeded daikon radishes and some equally undersized celariac for storage. I plan on forcing the celariac for celery leaves. Not sure why it didn't want to grow this year but I'm guessing water stress as it was in the sandtrap garden. Next year, I'll incorporate more organic matter in its planting location. Celariac makes a decorative border.

Some of these are experimental. My attempts to find further references to overwintering globe artichoke roots - and therefore cardoon - have come to not.** The bulb fennel is another trial as its root is not dissimilar to carrot.

Next year, I'll have sweet cicely, divisions of lovage hopefully and oyster root (Scorzonera and salsify) but for now, I want to increase my stock more than I want to eat them during the whiteout. Also resting undisturbed in the garden are crosnes (Stachys affinis), and various multiplier onions.

Exciting discovery!

So I've discovered that parsnips and Swiss Chard grow quite well together. I wasn't sure if the heavy leaf cover of the Swiss Chard would overcompete with the parsnips but perhaps, the different levels of the root growth - though Swiss Chard does have a tap like root, more obvious in some, it is not as long as the parsnip and has a lot bushy secondary roots near the surface - seem to have enabled them to be good neighbours. The first parsnip I pulled out from the clump of Swiss Chard was baseball bat sized. The only roots that weren't worth pulling were crowded out by their own kind. Clearly I didn't thin adequately when they germinated, probably thinking that the bugs would do it for me as they often do. It's a nice combination as the colourful Swiss Chard fills in the spaces between the parsnip leaves. If you want to go all out, planting this with a border of nasturtiums sets off the bright colours of varities like Rainbow Lights Chard or a mix of gold and reds. I also like to interplant Rhubarb with dark leafed swiss chard and maybe a border of dwarf red tipped marigolds or red English Daisy to play off the ruby theme.

Storing in autumn leaves:

A range of chicory heads as pretty as flowers. I am going to cut and eat these over the next little while and then store the roots for forcing later if they so oblige. There are varieties specifically bred for forcing to produce Belgium Endive.

Previously, I've always stored my roots in the quintessential moist sand (rarely) or in plain, old garden dirt (mostly) in low boxes. This year, I thought I'd try leaves as I've heard the odd mention of it. Apparently, a drawback is that the leaves will rot. In my case, that might help (assuming it doesn't affect the roots negatively) as it would add moisture. We'll see. To further increase humidity, I'll be adding bowls of water around the closed off basement cellar. Some of my roots are planted up in soil as well such as celariac, and others are loose. I'll report back how they do.

In the meantime - the how to:

Typically roots that are stored for eating in the winter are those that can either go into dormancy before growing again like potatoes or are biennial so they wait until after a period of environmental change, such as cold, before resuming growth then flowering and setting seed. Therefore, storage either in the ground or in a special made storage place like a cellar is the way to get seeds from vegetables such as carrots and parsnips.

You can also extend the time that you get to eat some tasty greens like celery by potting them up and bringing them inside. Which brings me to another fun thing to do with stored roots, force them. This means you take them from their cozy cellar bed of sand/dirt and pot them in some more sand/dirt and then place in a warm spot and water them. They will start to grow. If you want them to green up, then you'd place them in a sunny spot but if you want them to grow pale, delicate and sometimes more palatable, such as for dandelion yellows (sounds like a disease doesn't it but it tastes quite yummy) then grow them in the dark. This is the way that people produce Belgium Endive or Chicons.*** Many leaves of roots are edible including turnip, beet, carrot (so I understand), chicory, radish, parsley root (and parsley), celariac and even cabbage.

Some big ol' beets giving two harvests: leaves and roots. As siblings of Swiss Chard, you can use beet leaves in a similar way though they might be a bit tougher. The other day I fried them up with some garlic and mixed them together with coucous, an egg, a bit of wine vinegar and some flour then fried this as patties. It was sublime.

A root cellar is the classic place to store roots that require cool temperatures and high humidity, though placing them in a plastic bag in your fridge works well too. If you live in mild climate, you could probably just dig them out of the ground on mild days or build a clamp. Piling a bunch of fall leaves like a frost blanket over your in-ground roots will help keep frost out. I recently saw a suggestion in motherearthnews to place these fall leaves in a plastic bag for easy removal and replacement. Good idea! Even for those in harsher climates, this would extend the time you had access to your in-ground roots. It is also a way to protect roots that might need a bit of help to make it through the winter.

I have a lot of success overwintering vegetables in situ for seed saving the next year or eating early in the spring. The only classic root crop that pops to my mind that never overwinters, except the obviously frost tender ones, are turnips. I also get heavy losses of carrots. We get heavy, consistent snow cover so this insulates the ground most years. However, I have no access to them for the same reason.

Some stuff I did earlier: potted celaric, some misc. roots stored in leaves, a bag of edible leaves that were cut off the roots to make a vegetable stock, and a bag of carrots for the fridge.

To store:

1. Dig up roots as late as possible in the season. Be delicate with them
2. You don't need to remove all the dirt but feel free to brush off excess
3. Undamaged, well grown roots of storage varities do best
4. Trim off the greens to ~2 inch stubs - careful not to damage growing crown
5. Place in your favourite storage medium and container - generally recommended is sand, sawdust or vermiculite as medium in some sort of tub.

There are lots of good books and sites out there with charts to guide you when it comes to ideal storage conditions. Here's a reference from good Cornell University.

* To select for the best plants, you can dig up your biennial roots, inspect for insect damage and qualities (even sampling a bit of the end of the root) then replant. It also doesn't hurt to give the roots a blanket of mulch to protect against frost unless you have a serious problem with rodents nibbling away at your roots.
** Actually I did find a couple mentions of people trying it but not picture filled examples of them succeeding so if you did this, speak up! I'm mostly interested in trying to force them for no reason other than curiousity. I have left some in the ground that I plan on covering with a thick layer of leaves and dirt (rather like a clamp) to see if I can carry them through in ground. Probably wishful thinking.
*** You won't be surprised to find out that there is more than one way to grow a chicon. You can also pot the roots up in sand/sandy soil, place in a cool spot and then when you want to force them, bring them into a warm, but dark place and water them. I've also read in Salad Leaves for All Sesons by Dowding that you can force them in a plastic bag (or as he put it a bin liner or polythene sack) in a warm, dark place. They can be laid horizontally.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Easy Cabbage Breeding Harvest Monday*

The Offspring

Cross between Savoy San Michele and Red Rock Mammoth, F1 weighing in at a respectable 4 lbs.

I'm going to admit it right now. I'm pretty chuffed about my cabbage babies. Okay, so they aren't really my babies but the children of a couple randy Brassica oleracea var. capitata and I can't even claim any fancy scientific sounding techniques to produce the cross. Perhaps it is most accurate to say that I was the match maker. The bees were enablers. However as the cabbage and bees have little to say on the matter, I'm going claim ownership such as one can (I'll happily explain how you can make the same cross below).

Clockwise: San Michele, Red Rock Mammoth and their spawn, with the eloquent name RRMxSM F1 at the bottom.

I hadn't realized that I should be all atwitter about this cross as I hadn't harvested any until Saturday. In fact, until Saturday, I wasn't entirely sure if I had succeeded on creating a cross. Sure, they looked intermediary between the two parents - a hard headed, delicious, pest resistant heritage red called Red Rock Mammoth and a beautiful blush savoy called San Michele. From the onset, the babies had lovely violet/green leaves which got progressively brighter and more purple as cold weather set in. They did appear to be slightly more savoyed than the Red Rock but it wasn't until I sliced off the heads that I saw the remarkable difference in the texture and colour of the leaves.

RRMxSM F1: violet splashed leaves.

It looks more like a savoy in cross section to my eye but instead of merely having a slight pink/purple blush in the centre of the head like the San Michele, it is mottled right through with violet splashed leaves. Even the taste is right between the two parents being sweeter and nuttier than the savoy but still a bit more 'green' than the red.

The F1s (first generation of a cross between two varieties) seem quite uniform so far from the reports back I've heard from the seed I sent out. Assuming these babies survive the winter - I'm testing them for winter hardiness** with nothing but leaf mulch and snow - then I'll let the bees do their business and we'll if there is more variation in the F2s. I suspect so and hope for the opportunity to find out!

Overachieving cabbage with multiple, sizeable secondary heads below main head.

Most of my cabbage plenty is still in the garden waiting for a later, big harvest before the real cold and snow sets in. It leaves me with a question for a future post: How to preserve all that cabbage? Here are a few suggestions but I am open to more:

* Store in cold cellar with intact roots.
* Cut in wedges and freeze for cooked dishes.
* Freeze whole for use as a wrappers for cabbage rolls OR make cabbage rolls and freeze them.
* Freezer slaw
* Dry - interesting
* Saurekraut
* Kimchi - Extreme Gardener (link at end) has a lovely looking jar with apples
* Otherwise pickle

Rainbow cabbage in a pot.

Easy Cabbage Breeding

You may have noticed that I'm the kind of gardener that likes techniques that create maximum success for minimum effort. As a rule of thumb, this involves working with nature.

Baby cabbage cross in spring.

Case in point: last spring, a row of undersized Red Rock Mammoths and one beautiful San Michele cabbage breezed through the winter. As Brassica oleracea is an outbreeder and most varieties are reputed to be self incompatible - rejects its own pollen - I figured the pods on the single San Michele might well be crossed. At the end of the season and some close calls with people snapping off flowerheads... I got a small amount of cabbage seeds from the San Michele and a good amount of seed from the Red Rocks. I gave away a bunch of the seed around and started some myself.

The parents as plants: Greener one is San Michele, more purple is Red Rock Mammoth. If you are curious, those flowerheads draping over them are from a kind of chinese cabbage.

Turns out the bees and the cabbage cooperated. So if you have a hankering to try it yourself, you know the parents. I'd love to hear from someone who tries it!


* Yes, I wrote this Sunday night. Monday morning I'm going to the tree nursery day for fall sales!!
** A note on winter hardiness and cabbages. I find that heads of cabbages tend to turn to mush in the spring but often small heads, roots and stems make it through sprouting new leaves and flower heads. I've started to cut off big heads but leave the rest in the ground in hopes of getting seed. I might try to take some cuttings of the cross to overwinter in the cellar. Not sure yet because my interest really is in producing cabbages that you can save seed from in our northern location. For those of you that hadn't contemplated it before, cabbage is biennial so the easiest way to save seed would be to have plants that survive in the ground during the cold months. As an outbreeder, you should be saving seed from as large a population as is reasonable. Cabbage seed stores for a while so if you are restricted for space, then just save for one generation. The two cabbages mentioned in the post are both large needing at least 3 feet square but 4 feet would be better to form, in my experience, 2-4lb heads though much larger have been reported.


How do I grow Cabbage and other family members?

Saving Cabbage Family Seed

Extreme Gardener (excellent blog) also writes about this cross in Blushing Cabbages

Friday, October 28, 2011

In praise of the Litchi Tomato

The important bits: flowers, fruit and spiny leaves. Not my ungloved, unscathed hands. Not a fast procedure harvesting to avoid punctures but possible.

It sure doesn't look like any tomato you've ever grown before because it isn't though it is related. Litchi Tomato, aka Morelle De Balbis, known in proper gardenize as Solanum sisymbriifolium bears reams of tasty, juicy and somewhat seedy red fruit guarded by pretty and poky yellow spines. The whole plant is covered with them in fact with the exception of the large bluish white flowers.

To get your taste of these fruits, you will have to get ahold of some seeds (I probably have a few to share), start at the same time as tomatoes and plant out after last frost. It'll begin small and innocent enough but after a few months, it will be between the size of a tall kid or a giant adult depending. Mine have all been around 4 feet though I've heard at least one report of 8 feet. Harvesting the fruit is a delicate matter of avoiding the spines but they are a wonderful addition to the solanacaea fruit collection such as ground cherries and tomatillos. I made a sauce with tomatillos, litchi tomato and apples with a squeeze of orange juice that was reminiscent of cranberries.

If you look in the background, you'll note hoar frost on the ground. In the foreground, an unphased Litchi Tomato plant.

It's taste is often described as being similar to cherries, or at least a cherry crossed with a tomato, with a pleasantly (in my mind) seedy raspberry overtone. It will continue to pump out the bee friendly flowers and tasty fruit until AFTER first frost. That's right, if you live in a mild climate, you may be more weary of planting this thorn machine because it will survive several degrees below zero celcius.

It's thorniess could be seen as an advantage if placed at the edge of the garden to discourage larger, thinner skinned visitors like other people or perhaps a thorn weary racoon... Anyone who happens to grow a slightly less prickly variation wcould be pretty popular as this plant could benefit from a little refinement to make it less painful to pick with easier detachment from the husk, earlier and more prolific. I've heard different stories on its taste too that could be related to growing conditions or genetic variation - probably both.

When I used to garden in a city community plot, I noted the Colorado potato beetle liked them - you could see this as a trap crop or as a problem - but I haven't seen the same issue on my rural property. They would potentially be subjected to the same pests and diseases as other tomato relatives though I haven't noticed any foliar diseases but they may harbour them.

A close up of the leaves after light ground frost showing no damage but certainly possible damage to you if you were to fall into it.

I grow it as a tasty 'trail' treat as I walk through my garden or an ingredient in salads and other dishes that could benefit their fruity flavour, and as a pretty addition to the productive beds. Then again, I have a thing for thistles and their prickly friends.


My source was La Societe des Plantes

There are a few other Canadian sources listed on Seeds of Diversity

Monday, October 24, 2011

Still Harvesting Beans and Eggplants Monday

This is the year when frost did not want to come though I suspect in a few days, my faith in winter will be renewed.

Beans! Beans? Really still beans? Kid steals unexpected late beans before dinner.

The tomatoes are fruiting again, the peppers and eggplants never stopped and the pumpkin vines that had been ravished by powdery mildew have resprouted leaves and have begun to flower anew. I had been waiting for the icy leveller to end this extended bounty so I could pull up the remains and plant my garlic but yesterday I said, "enough is enough" and yanked them all anyhow. Pulling up vigorous green plants is difficult but as a gardener, you have to be tough. The back suntrap garden looks tidy now with grass and leaf clippings on top of the bare soil. Garlic is in the ground and my sights have turned to the reamining gardens for clean up.

Lazy gardener still hasn't put away all the pumpkins and gourds. I have about as many in the cold storage room. These are hanging out in my garage at the moment.

As of today, I am still harvesting:

Peas - second planting
Volunteer Tomatoes
Litchi Tomatoes
Ground Cherry - annual
The odd summer squash
Pak choi
Mustards - second generation of self seeded
Broccoli - secondary heads
Salsify & Scorzonera
Horseradish soon
Green onions, mostly perennials
Grains: Amaranth, sorghum
Apples - lots of apples
Herbs: Coriander, sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay laurel, parsley, anise hyssop and so on
Flowers: Nasturtiums, mallows, calendula, borage etc...

Seven apples trees = Lots of apple pie! (and apple fritters, and apple sauce and apple randomly thrown into various unexpected dishes - going to get myself an evaporator).

This is all I can remember right now. The squash is in cold storage with the root crops soon to follow. I have about a month before the snow starts to fall thick and heavy frost makes working the ground literally hard. This has been one beautiful fall.

Bumblebee is appreciative of late fall flowers on this litchi tomato.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where are you?

I'm overcoming a minor ailment combined with a lot of volunteering work.

P.S. Organic Week is October 15-22 this year. There should be lots of events showing up on their website for Ottawa soon if not already. However, I have the skinny on Canadian Organic Grower if anyone is dying to know now. Also, I'm hoping some of you guys will have your own organic celebrations! How about bake a citron day? I have lots of extras... please come get them.

Back soon promise!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Sweet Haul

One of the descent producing plants in The Back Rock Garden

Ipomoea batatas grew like a viney weed all summer and now, with temperatures threatening to drop at week's end, I've yanked out the vines and carved open the ground to see what the ground had been hiding.

Here are some nice vines growing in The Back Rock Garden with a pumpkin wandering across.

The sweets were grown in two locations this year, both new gardens, but with very different results though I think I have an explanation. The first is The Barn Circle Garden - figured I'd give them official names now and I opt for descriptive - which was created by layering on horse manure enriched soil directly atop sod. Only short season varieties of sweets, from Mapple Farms such as George Jet, were grown with black plastic mulch (aka black garbage bags stretched over the soil and secured with more soil around the edges) with 18 inch centres.

I believe this is Georgia Jet showing growth cracks.

The second garden will be called The Back Rock Garden because it is built around and on top of a large outcropping beneath the dirt that can be seen in parts where I dug it out. This was created with semi-circular berms and swales following the topography. The sod in the swales was piled up on the berms to increase the soil depth of the beds. The sweets - a mixture of varieties including some from a friend in France that were planted late - were grown with clear plastic mulch in roughly the same spacing.

You can tell that your sweets are really starting to bulk up when the ground starts to be pushed up near the plant into a mound. Here, I removed the plastic mulch and a bit of dirt.

The haul from The Barn Circle Garden was pretty descent. I got lots of large bakers. They were almost exclusively directly under where the plant emerged from the soil. Didn't find any wanderers.

When injured, sweets produce latex to seal the wounds.

However, despite luxuriant vine growth in The Back Rock Garden, the harvest was significantly poorer. There were a couple plants with good yields which were the short season ones but the ones from France, that probably needed a longer growing season and were planted a touch later, yielded little to no sweets emphasizing the importance of variety. The only one that made a sweet potato of any size was Beauregard. However, the France plants, also had some flowers unlike the short season ones.

This is actually from a third location where I put some homeless plants hence the grass clipping mulch around it. It had the prettiest flower. You can see their relationship to morning glories.

They were also some adventurous roots in The Back Rock Garden that given time may have fattened into what would be impressively large sweets. I also think that the way the garden was built with sod piled on top of sod might have supplied too much nitrogen hence the beautiful vine growth. Hard to say.

A variety named White Fraser. It didn't have as high of a yield as the other two major ones - Georgia Jet and Tainung 65 - that I tried this year but still respectable.

The Back Rock Garden is a sun trap facing south with clear plastic so the soil overall would have been hotter - good for sweet potatoes - but it may have suffered from more drought - not so good - being higher in elevation from the other and sandy in soil composition. I also get a lot more Japanese beetle damage in the back.

White Frazer from the Back Rock Garden with Japanese Beetle Grub Damage.

Now the challenge is to cure them as they need both high heat and humidity to seal the skins from moisture loss and improve storage considerably. I don't have any easy way of doing this like an independently heated room so I'm trying placing them in paper bags in a plastic container with lid that is left with a small crack open in the sun. We'll see how it goes.

Here's the round-up. Not bad but we'll try and double it for next year.


Want to grow sweet potatoes? I recommend the book Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden by Ken Allan. Can't wait until then? Here are my slap-dash instructions (the book is really good):

1. Order some slips or tubers to make slips of a SHORT season variety in the winter/spring.
2. Plant a week or two after all danger of frost in a sunny well drained spot with ideally light (sandy) soil with neutral to slighly acid pHl. You can plant these up beforehand if they come early or if you want to give them a head start. Just don't put them out until soil and air are warm.
3. To increase success, increase the heat and plant in raised mounds, row cover, or with clear plastic mulch. Black seems to do okay too but Mr. Allan's authorative suggestion is for clear. Put the mulch on a couple weeks before you plant. It should be pulled tight over the bed and secured at the edges with soil. Plant into Xs cut into the plastic about 18 inches apart and use more soil or sand to seal these. You want to make a little depression in the planting area to funnel water.
5. It doesn't hurt to add organic matter to the soil before planting. Sweet potatoes are reputed to survive with little water and nutrients but they do better if they get enough to drink. I wouldn't fertilize (but then I never do) but adding a bit of compost to the site should be nothing but helpful.
6. Let them grow.
7. Harvest before first frost when the temperatures start to cool off. I like to leave mine in the ground until early-mid September.
8. Cure for storage. This is keeping them at high temperatures, around 27C, and high humidity for several weeks (according to Mapple Farms). I am trying to figure out an easy way of doing this. Click on their brochure for more info.
9. Store at room temperature unwashed until you want to use them.
10. Use small ones to start slips in the spring!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Odd Veg. Trials - Cuke and Melon

I'll let you know a little secret: I've discovered that I am a collector. Not of stamps or teddy bears or vintage uniforms but of edible plants. Surprise! Okay so you aren't that surprised. Perhaps you too have been tempted by goblin egg gourds or mouse melons too. For your interest, here are my experiences in upper Ottawa valley growing some weird vining stuf:

Burr Gherkin


Impressively productive compared to my cursed cucumbers and for something with a leaf like a watermelon. Actually, Cucumis anguria, had some competition from the citron for pumping out the fruit this summer. I would grow it again if I could figure out what I can do with this bounty of little fruit. Perhaps... gherkins?

My source: Seed trade from down south in the U.S. I hope to have some available this year.



Stories of Cyclanthera species impressive productivity in mild climes such as the UK did not come true in the sand trap of the old garden or during our mini drought, interspersed as it was by storms. I can confirm that it is a very impressive climer however.

My source: Seed trade from a mild part of Europe.



Want to surprise your friends with your prowess at growing watermelons? Try the perserving melon: citron, Citrullus lanatus. You can't split this baby open and dig out juicy goodness unfortunately but you can prepare all manner of canned yummies. Mostly they are for a lemon preserve but I have heard of them being used in place of cucumber and apple. Currently on my research list as you can see I have a few dozen. Anyone want to try one?

My source: Perth Seedy Saturday

Gourds - exotic up here


They aren't ripe yet but they're trying. I'll have to update you further on how they are doing. Langenaria siceraria is pretty enough to grow as a decorative especially as its large white flowers open later in the day.

My source: An italian squash and gourd mix

Mouse Melon

I didn't get a chance to grow Melothria scabra year but I they get tops for cuteness and have a nice flavour the one time I did try. They were grown in shade so descriptions of vines dripping with little melons was inaccurate for me. I'll try them again before throwing in the towel.

I'd love to hear other people's experience with the cuke pretenders and other unusual edible gourds and melons.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Harvest is a lot of work Monday

The first batch of grapes waiting to become jelly and a couple purple spored puffballs.

The horn of plenty is spilling over with lots of preserving in the works. As I am up to my elbows in plums, grapes, apples, tomatoes and so on, I've decided to pass over the reigns of Harvest Monday to my eldest.

Go on then, what are we harvesting?

Woohoo! Need I say more?

"It's hot but we went outside and harvested tomatoes, grapes, a chum (plum-cherry) from our new baby tree, giant swiss chard that looked like wings, spaceship summer squash, basil which tasted strong, ground cherries which tasted good, corn which tasted sweet and some lettuce seeds."

"They are like tiny pins topped with what looks like dandelion fluff. You have to take a seed head and take off the fluff then you open it and put the seeds in a jar."

"Then we went to the new garden and harvested more tomatoes, some eggplants, peppers and melon and a citron. We weren't sure it was a citron because our puppy dog moved all the plant tags."

There also appears to be a bunch of onions too in our harvest basket.


Brought to you by the kids and this citron: which is indeed a citron.

Eldest with gap toothed smile, youngest and the much loved citron melon which unlike some that are round and stripey, ours are mottled and large.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What to do with my Harvest Monday?

Here is the second picking of apples from one of my six (I think?) apple trees. These seem to be early, thin skinnned, juicy and large apples. They come from an old tree that would be quite large if it hadn't been topped some time back. The apples would be wonderful to eat out of hand if it wasn't for the birds pecking at them and the odd bug damage. As it is, they look fantastic. And these, my friends, are ORGANIC apples. Not a spray has touched their gentle faces or shielding leaves. I have done nothing to this tree so we can thank the previous owners for their fine care, and this tree for its fine apples.

Not sure what is going on in this shot: one kid didn't want to look up because of the glaringly diffuse light of a cloudy sky, the dog was chillin' and the other kid was distracted by something 'over there.' But did you see the apples?

My problem is what to do with them all. They aren't storage apples so please post your favourite freezing/canning recipes. I like baking so go wild.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Mystery Bean and other Seed Stories

I normally plant three types of pole beans (and many other bush beans but we'll leave that exciting tale for another installation): Hunter - a green flat pod with white seeds, Cherokee Trail of Tears - prolific, small black bean with round pods and some sort of 'cranberry' that I originally got at a fruit/veg store. This year I harvested five kinds of beans. I have been saving these seeds for many years and never remember this happening before. I figure that it must be one of two things: 1) I forgot that I planted other varieties, or 2) some pollination shenanigans has been going on.

My mystery bean

This bean turns out to be the most prolific of all my pole beans this year and I have no idea what it is. The pods are flat like the Hunter but purple like the Cherokee and the beans are a pale lavender/tan colour. If you recognize this bean as something you sent me, please jog my memory. In the meantime, here is some possible evidence of crossing. First the beans:

From left to right: Hunt, Mystery Bean and Cherokee Trail of Tears.

You can see that the pale 'lavender' mystery bean has the same markings as the Hunter bean. And now the dry pods:

From top to bottom: Mystery bean, Hunter and Cherokee Trail of Tears

I have to admit that I assumed all the purple pods were Cherokee though there were actually very few round pods. Most of them were flat like the Hunter.

From Left to Right: Hunter, 'Cranberry,' and Mystery Bean

And among the rest of the beans was one other surprise, some of the (not true) 'cranberry' were streaked brown?? I might have planted some variety like that but I've only found two pods so far that contained these nuggets of difference.

From left to right: brown marked bean and 'Cranberry'

Viva la diversidad! Here is a picture of the twining vines of various hues.

A twisting rainbow

Besides puzzling over these beans, I was threshing radish seeds. Here is a my quick step by step.

1. First gather dried pods

A pile of pods

2. Strip the pods from the stems


3. Step on them or rub them between gloved hands or use a masher like my niece. Or some other method to remove the pod from the seed.

You may recall her as a tyke in the Cabbage picture

4. Pour chaff and seeds into a bowl or bucket of water and swirl around. Remove the floating bits of pods and pour off most of the water leaving just a bit of water and seeds on the bottom then pour the rest through a strainer.

Almost all done. These were rattail radish seeds actually and I had a lot fewer pods. With the daikon radish of most of these pictures, I needed a bucket.

5. Dry and label seeds well!

P.S. Nagging Aunt of the Garden - that's NAG to you - doesn't have time to open her twitter account but wants to tell you to go buy garlic at one of the festivals round these parts tomorrow! I'll be in Carp if you want to sign up to be a member of Canadian Organic Gardeners. :)