What I learned in 2015 (Gardening)

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I have taken away so many things from my first real year of trying to grow enough vegetables  to have more than just a nibble in our yard. In 2014 and 2013 I grew everything away from home, which meant that I left it all until it was ready, and I had my best friend to garden with, so It was more of a divide and conquer and have fun chucking seeds in the ground and seeing what we get. So in 2015, with my first JUST MINE garden, here is what I have discovered

  • It is easy to get lazy when Pinterest/YouTube/Netflix/My nice cozy bed are just steps away. By the middle of summer, I was a little gardened out, and still had a lot of time left to wait for anything harvest-able.
  • Where the shade actually is. Areas that I had thought were really sunny, actually got more shade than I thought. And vise-versa.
    • This is something I never would have noticed if I hadn’t grown things in 2 different spots in the yard!
  • It is easy to have grandiose plans in the dead of winter with pinterest and YouTube showing you all these beautiful things, Its an other to make yourself get out and grow them and be realistic about where you live and climate you are in. Especially with work and home stress creeping in, and the 18 other projects you started.
  • Ironically, the amount of tomatoes I grew, was just right! I learned a few things in their placement, but It was nice and refreshing to have a bunch of different kinds of tomatoes. In a few years time If I ever have my own real greenhouse I will scale up my tomato growing again because they really are so much fun to watch grow and take over everything.
  • I wont waste my time with dry-beans or Broad Beans this year. But I will use their space on more Green Beans. I also will just stick with climbing beans to save space. The slug population really liked my bush beans and got to most of them before I could.
  • I will stagger my Peas better in 2016. It was hard to keep up with them before they got too mature. We definitely prefer baby snow-peas, and the sugar snaps. So I will probably just stick to that kind… And the Alaska peas, because they grow so well in the cold here.
  • As much as I want I huge carrot harvest, It doesn’t seem like a possibility here. I have tried every year to grow carrots in my yard, and every year they are sad and tiny and pitiful. So I may just throw in the towel and just grow a few tiny patches of them and use the space for something that I know grows well here… If I can find the seed from a local garden centre again I will get those little round Paris Market carrots and grow them in a container. They are awesome and so much fun.

 

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So In 2016, I have plans to:

  • Have things that harvest quickly, and give a good push to keep going.
    • I won’t skip growing Potatoes, they are so easy and so satisfying to grow, and we definitely missed them this year.
  • I will be more realistic about what we will actually eat.
    • I love beets, but I don’t need 6 rows of them!
    • I will grow more lettuce and stagger plantings better, because I now know that I can grow heads of lettuce!
  • More Zucchini! and Cucumbers!
  • I’m going to scale back a bit and not over-challenge myself. When I go too hard into gardening, all my other projects start to fall by the wayside, and I get into an extreme rocking between the two. So I will be more realistic about my life and time management in 2016.
  • Tomato-wise in 2016, I want to legit-start saving my own seed. I have dabbled here and there, but I would like to actually perpetuate my own stash of heirloom seeds.
  • I still want to give Brussels Sprouts a go again… They grew tiny little sprouts, but nothing worth writing home about. I just need to put them somewhere sunnier I think. I plunked them in the shadiest spots, and they were pretty late going in the ground.
  • My herbs will be a go again, But I am going to be realistic and just buy them. I think I have their ideal location nailed down here, and I have a better way of drying them quickly now. I’m slowly learning what works for me. Also, cooking with your own home-grown herbs is so much more delicious, I don’t really want store bought again.
  • I want to grow more flowers this year. They definitely give a push to go out into the garden. They are pretty, and Its fun to watch the bees and butterflies enjoying them. Also, once I’m out there smelling the flowers, I usually get to work on the vegetables, so it’s a win-win.
  • I will be skipping Cauliflower in 2016. I grew 2 heads of it, but we weren’t ready to eat it, and then it went to flower so I missed out. So I’ll save it for a year when I have more time to keep up with time-sensitive stuff like that. I will have another go with the Broccoli though! They were fantastic.
  • I want to grow a few things with  the full intention of pickling them. I haven’t done much pickling, and I think that I will make that my kitchen-garden goal of 2016.
  • My major seed-to-mature-vegetable project this year is going to be Onions. I will be starting them from seed today! (Maybe some more strawberries too)

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Here is to a wonderful 2016 for everyone and their gardens!

 

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Happy New Year!

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2014 was a little rough for me. It involved a lot of scrambling to pick up the pieces the best that I could… twice. But it is when those times happen, that I am reminded about how many awesome people I have in my life.. and that are out in the world. And at the same time reminded to trust my gut on other (f*&$ing crazy) people.

No greenhouse is worth having all your hard work stolen and your horses lives threatened.

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2014 started with my kitchen window only having a few pots with seeds tucked away inside…. and then I decided heirloom tomatoes were awesome and I had a greenhouse to use, so I ended up with over 15 different varieties of tomato… and all the other plants I started from seed. In 2015, this will be scaled back… slightly.

I grew things in 2014 that I had never grown before, and most of them were successful.

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Corn: I didn’t mention this much in my early updates, because I honestly thought it was going to fail. And by the time it was amazing and successful, most of the things I was so excited about sharing with you all, were stolen from the garden, and it just became too much to post about.

I grew “Canadian Early Supersweet Hybrid.” I started the seeds in tall newspaper pots in my kitchen in late April, moved them to the greenhouse a few weeks later, and planted them outside in June. By August we had beautiful ears of corn. And they tasted amazing. No butter or salt required. Each plant produced 2-3 cobs, and I dried the few that weren’t quite developed. By the time the corn was ready, we were in a state of “grab it before it gets stolen.” So I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

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Brussels Sprouts: I BARELY got a taste of these. I harvested a small handful when they were first ready, thought they would be safe until Thanksgiving (early October here in Canada), went to the greenhouse to pick them for my family dinner, and the whole lot had been cut and taken. That was a low blow. If I can find some space in my backyard, I will attempt these again. The plants were from the garden center and I believe they were “Harley.”

Cabbage+Cauliflower – Also bought plants from the garden center. These were successful, but I underestimated the ferocity of the Cabbage white butterfly, and my Brassicas were all covered in caterpillars. I did end up with some huge heads of cabbage, but the caterpillars had already staked their claim. If I find room for these in the backyard, I will be sure to cover them with some mesh!

Most of my beans were fantastic this year, and I even spotted a hummingbird at my Scarlet Runner Beans… I want to grow more of these in the backyard this year, and put up a feeder, in the attempt of another hummer spotting.

My Leeks were new to me this year. They were fantastic too.Its a shame I had to harvest them so early, I am sure they would have been bigger and better if they had the extra month or so to grow and mature. Same with my Parsnips. I will try Leeks in 2015, but not parsnips again until I have a proper place for them.

All of the different Potatoes were amazing. We had a wonderful harvest of them. I am saving a few of each to use as my own seed potatoes for 2015 (which will ALL be in containers). The only one I had trouble with (again) both in the open ground and in my backyard containers was the Russian Blue. They always get scab. Can anyone give me some suggestions? All three attempts at these were in completely different conditions and soil types and they still all get scab.

Overall, It was a wonderful growing year, and I wish I could replicate it to learn from my mistakes. Maybe someday I will have my own greenhouse and own large garden and I won’t have to worry about crazy people taking my vegetables. Maybe in January I will finally write the follow up posts about all the varieties I grew.

 

I know this post is a little low on the photos, but when everything started getting stolen, I started just grabbing everything I could and taking it home with me… But I will share one important one to finish this post off… On Christmas morning, I got engaged!!! So maybe it is best that I wont have a huge garden this year, I will probably be much too busy planning a wedding…

Here is to an amazing 2015!  Happy Growing!!

 

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Favorite Childhood Memories – Tomato Edition

You know the smell of tomato plants? Not the fruit… Just the plant. It is so ingrained in my brain as a happy memory that I can’t even begin to describe it in anything relatable to anyone but myself.

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You see, my mom doesn’t have a green thumb. I wouldn’t call it black… Just not green. But we ALWAYS had a tomato plant (or four). Pretty much every summer of my life, I can remember tomatoes on our deck. And while you can’t beat the taste of that fresh home-grown tomato, that isn’t where my happy memories lie.

For me, the smell takes me back to car rides into the country to a local greenhouse. The Beatles are probably playing through the speakers. My mom’s favorite. I probably made her rewind the tape to Yellow Submarine or Penny Lane (my favorites) 8 times.

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Once we got to the greenhouse, there was usually a resident cat or dog to cuddle before we made our way into the hot, humid greenhouses. I would be admiring every flower as my mom picked out what bedding plants she was going to grow that year. ALWAYS some Pansies… Both of our favorites.

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And then the tomatoes. I don’t remember any special variety. We probably based our decision on the name. Honestly, I was probably back petting the resident animals, or talking to a cat. Mostly I remember the way the car would smell really earthy on the drive home. The feeling of taking our precious cargo back to its new house. And the prospect of playing in the dirt when we got home. I would dig the hole, my mom would carefully put the plant in, and then I got to help cover it back up.

Most of my memories involving tomatoes, are all jumbled together. But every year, that first tomato plant smell takes me back to those happy times in spring with my mom and some dirt. Think Disney movie flashback only less animated and more dirt.

Go smell some tomato plants and make your own earthy memories.

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Rosettes


I showed you the Icelandic side of the family’s Christmas tradition of Vinatarta, now I thought I would quickly share one of the Norwegian sides’s Christmas tradition, with Rosettes. (I may attempt to make my mom’s lefse sometime in January)
My mom makes these nearly every year. They are quite amazing, and very simple to do. You will need a rosette iron though.

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Basically you heat some fresh vegetable oil in a deep pan.

Make the batter while it is heating up (recipe below).

Make the rosette iron hot, by holding it in the oil.

Dip the hot iron into the batter, being careful to keep the top of the iron free of batter (otherwise your cookie will not slip off), and then quickly move the battered iron into the hot oil, holding it until it slips off easily (usually with the help of a fork).

Once one side of the cookie is golden, flip it over so the other side can cook, then remove from the oil to a paper towel lined plate to cool and drain.

Dust with icing sugar once cooled

My camera battery had died by the time we finished them all, and when I had the camera ready, all the cookies were gone. So no finished product pictures unfortunately. They are very delicious, and a nice Christmas time treat in my family.

To make the Rosette Batter:

2 eggs (whisked lightly)

2 Tbsp White Granulated Sugar

1 cup Milk

1 cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 tsp. Salt

Whisk everything together well, and your batter is made. Simple as that.

Enjoy!

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In a completely unrelated note… Here is a picture of the Ominous Llama. He let me pet his face without jerking it away… It felt like a Christmas gift… Maybe there is hope of us being able to tame him just a little bit…

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Vinatarta

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I am one quarter Icelandic. My great grandpa came to Canada from Iceland when he was 18. He travelled here with his mom and sister, a few short years after his father died at Sea. He farmed in Manitoba before setting out to Saskatchewan.

That is where he met my great grandma. She had come to Canada with her family, as a young girl. This year, they would have been married 100 years as of November 17.

I have never really known the Icelandic side of my family in person, just through stories, my genealogy research and recipes. Much like this one.

A few years ago my mom and I tried to find my great grandma’s Vinatarta recipe, without any luck. So I started googling, and relaying the recipes I found to my mom, until we found one that seemed the closest to what she remembers making with her mom (who learned it from her mother in law… my great grandma). Ultimately I love this recipe, because it is one my mom and I built together, based on years of family traditions.

Vinatarta is a traditional Icelandic Canadian cookie, typically made and served at Christmas time. It is made up of layers of a cake/cookie and a spiced prune filling. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t like it when I was a kid. It is more of a grown up taste. But I love it now. This Christmas, we were going to make it together again, but I decided to surprise her with it instead. Shhh Don’t tell her.

This took me about a morning to make and assemble, and then a few minutes to cut into pieces.

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For the Cookie/Cake Layers:

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
4 cups of flour
3 TBSP Heavy cream
1 tsp Almond Extract
1 1/2 tsp. Cardamom

Sift the dry ingredients together, set aside. Preheat Oven to 375F and find a round cake pan (or two… or 6)

With a stand mixer: Cream butter; Add Sugar, and beat very well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the Almond extract.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the bowl of the mixer, alternating with the Heavy Cream… Start and End with the Dry ingredients.

Knead well together, and then Divide into 5 or 6 even balls (depending on how many layers you want… We do 6). On the bottom of a round cake pan, spread each ball out individually, keeping the thickness of the dough even on the cake pan. You do this one the bottom of the pan, so you can remove the cookie layer easily… If you made it IN the pan, you would have a nicer circle, but would have a hard time removing it. Continue with this until all 6 layers are baked. Let them cool completely while you do the next part.

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Prune Jam Filling:

Place about 1 pound of dried, pitted prunes in a large saucepan. Just barely cover with a combination of water and Spiced Rum.

Simmer until the prunes are soft.

Puree the softened prunes, using more water/prune juice/rum if needed to get the job done.

Return to the pot, with 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup Spiced Rum. Cook until thick (think Apple Butter thickness)

Add Spices to taste: We use, 2 tsp of Cinnamon, 2 tsp of ground Cloves, and 2 tsp. of Cardamom.

Let everything cook together until nice and thick… Cool completely

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To Assemble:

Take a cookie layer, and 1/5 of the prune filling, and spread around

Top with a cookie layer, and cover it with another 1/5 of the filling… Continue until you have your best looking cookie layer on top. Press lightly together, and cover with some plastic wrap. Let sit for a few days (at room temperature, or, preferably, in the fridge)

After a few days… Cut the whole thing into slices, and then cut the slices into whatever size pieces you want.

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