I had semi high hopes for the volunteer sweet potato sprout that poked out the side of the compost bin a couple weeks ago. As you can see in the picture below, it has been joined by a few more sprouts but hasn’t grown much.
I doubt there will be a bin full of potatoes by fall, but miracles happen in the garden every day. We will see.
Speaking of miracles, or a happy serendipity anyway, look at how the purple of these nicotianas perfectly pair with the poppies through no planning on my part whatsoever.
It’s not a great picture. I told the wind to stop blowing everything around so I could get a clearer image, but it paid me no mind. That’s a sea sponge in the bird bath. I put it there to turn it into a bee and butterfly bath. The sponge absorbs the water and allows the insects to land on it and drink without drowning.
Or that’s the hope.
I put in a lot of stones as well and very little water. It looks a little full because we had a bunch of rain last night. The result hasn’t been what I hoped for. The birds seem to enjoy this bath even more than the bigger one designated for them and I haven’t seen a single bee or butterfly partake. Yet.
One of many lessons harvested from a garden.
Speaking of which, the peas are podding but none have filled in yet. This, of course, does not stop me from eating them prematurely, flat pods and all.
Isn’t this Tall Telephone pea crazy? Also known as Alderman it reaches dizzying heights of over six feet! This variety is about the same age as me, dating back to 1965 which I guess makes us both heirlooms.
This is the much more understated Bolero pea which tops out around 30 inches. This is the one featured in the close up a couple pictures ago. It may be short but it’s locked and loaded.
The peas that I put in the stock trough gardens as backdrop to the carrots and beets are doing okay. I also stuck a tomato in the back centre. I need to stop doing this. I am always trying to cram one more thing into the mix to maximize harvest, but all too often it is just too much and everyone suffers.
Case in point are the two stock troughs of potatoes with a row of peas planted in the back. The one on the left is in the shade of the Mayday tree and suffered all around. The potatoes on the right were lobbed off a couple weeks back to give the peas a fighting chance.
The potatoes have since grown back. I am wondering now if that meant putting energy into regrowth that should have been going into producing tubers. We’ll find out soon. As for the peas, they are still alive, but it’s a struggle. They must feel like a short person in a mosh pit trying to see the stage.
Well, that’s my Friday photos of the backyard. I’ll post some more on here next Friday with a look at the front yard, including the much happier, and less crowded, in ground potato bed.
After months of planning, sowing, watering and weeding the harvest has started to trickle in. Right now our house has a smell going on that you will never be able to buy in an air freshener aisle. Or want to.
The food dehydrator has been humming all week with a wild mixture of plants inside. The lemon balm and mint were wonderful. Today there is plantain, lavender and dill on the trays and the aroma wafting about the house is…interesting.
I use dill weed like some people use salt. I like it on pretty much every vegetable I cook. I start harvesting the leaves off the dill when they are about a foot high. You don’t need a lot of plants to fill enough jars to see even a dill fiend like myself through a winter. A half dozen plants will more than do it. Plant more if you want dill seed for pickling.
Plantain is a common weed that is on par with dandelions for both being prolific and for having amazing medicinal uses.
Herbalists refer to plantain as ‘The Mother of all Plants’ for its wide range of healing properties. The leaves can be used fresh in salads or fresh or dried for teas to help with colds or bronchial problems.
Many people have had success using plantain tea to quit smoking. Drinking a cup before having a cigarette is said to give the feeling of having “over smoked” shortly after you light up.
Perhaps its most famous and important use is a poultice for insect bites, bee stings, cuts, scrapes, stinging nettles and other skin irritations. Some claim it even helps with venomous snake bites or for healing broken bones.
Simply have the person chew a leaf thoroughly and then place the chewed up leaf onto the afflicted area to draw out venom or poison. and speed healing. Compresses soaked in plantain tea are also said to be beneficial.
Obviously plantain is not a replacement for proper medical care, and whether it can save you from a venomous snake bite or help with healing a broken bone is debatable, but if you are out in the wilderness with nothing to lose, it might at least help until you can get to a hospital.
For smaller issues like mosquito bites, small cuts or a run-in with a nettle patch, chewing up a leaf and applying it to the irritation is just the thing.
And here’s a bit of serendipity; plantain almost always grows near stinging nettles. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if it is mere coincidence, it’s a welcome one.
Since it is such a dependable “weed” I don’t plant plantain. I simply let a couple of them grow in my garden until they send up seed spikes and then I harvest and dry the leaves to use in the winter for teas, salves and soaps.
As much as I love both dill and plantain, it is the addition of lavender to the drying trays that is helping to make our home smell tolerable. Weird, but tolerable.
I planted Munstead lavender last year and, as always, was thrilled to see it rise and shine this spring. It is a cold hardy lavender that does great in our harsh climate. I’ve grown it in gardens before, so I don’t know why I am beyond excited to see it survive the winter, but I always am. I guess it is because I associate it with the sight and scent of the more fragile French lavender, so it feels decadent to have it as a perennial in the north. And it is rated as Zone 4a while we are more 2b or 3a, so it is always a bit on the iffy side. However, if you mulch it well before going into winter it will usually survive.
I dry lavender for soaps, adding to bath salts and for teas.
For the next couple weeks herbs will continue to rotate their way through the dryer, but soon it will be the most anticipated drying season of all…tomatoes!
Growing tomatoes can seem less than cost effective. As the joke goes, growing your own tomatoes is a great way to spend three months of your life to save $2.17.
Making your own dried tomatoes is another story. A smallish jar of sun dried tomatoes can sell for six or seven bucks.
Suddenly those three months of selecting, seeding, watering, pruning, staking and feeding your homegrown tomatoes are completely justified when you line a pantry shelf with a few dozen jars of your own dried tomatoes. Or semi justified anyway.
If you haven’t dried tomatoes before and would like to give it a try, basically you just slice the tomatoes thin, put them in the dehydrator and check every couple hours and remove the ones that have dried. They should still feel leathery, but with no moisture whatsoever.
If you haven’t finished drying them by the time you want to go to bed at night, you can simply turn the dryer off and resume in the morning.
You can store the dried tomatoes in jars as is. They make great chewy snacks right out of the jar or you can cover them with a bit of hot water to rehydrate them before using in your favourite recipe.
For a softer version right out of the jar, you can also preserve them in olive oil. If the tomatoes are completely submerged beneath the oil (this is crucial) they will keep for upwards of a year if not more.
While I just used regular tomatoes in the photo above, the best variety for drying are the plum type tomatoes.
Cherry tomatoes work great as well. Simply cut them in half and put them on the trays. Removing the seed pulp will quicken the drying the process but you don’t have to be too fussy about it.
If you like them salted you can do that before putting them in the dryer.
Lots of people salt some and forgo it on others for both health and future cooking purposes. Cherry tomatoes are perfect for this. Since they are going to have to be spread out on the sheet cut side up in order to best hold the salt, you can spread the non salted ones cut side down and dry both at the same time. That way it is easy to tell which is which when you take them out.
But as I said, I am still weeks away from tomato drying time. In the meantime herbs will keep the dryer humming along.
How about you? Do you like to dry things for winter? What’s in your dryer? Or do you prefer a different method? Feel free to share in the comments below.
When we decided to upsize at an age where most are downsizing, because I wanted more yard work at an age where most want less, the wish list was clear. It was all about the garden.
I wanted a south or west facing backyard and that yard had to be huge. A greenhouse, potting shed, established perennials, beautiful well paced trees, brick or stone walkways and raised beds were all on the want list.
The house we chose had none of those things. Life is funny like that.
In the end, after three years of searching, we chose not just a house, or a yard, but a place that felt like home. There were a few trees, but no garden area, no garden infrastructure and no greenhouse.
Darcy has built a greenhouse at pretty much every place we have ever lived. It’s been a journey of buy a place, unpack the boxes, build a greenhouse, repeat. He is willing to build one here as well, the question is where to site it. Our lot is small and there are only so many options, none of which seem workable.
And then I saw this…
A couple in Stockholm, Sweden built a greenhouse that covers their entire home and yard. In the middle of winter they go out on their deck to sunbathe instead of to shovel snow. They grow grapes, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers and all kinds of things in their outside greenhouse/garden/patio/yard.
Can you imagine? Of course you can!
I love how there is always a solution to what we think is an unsolvable problem. No suitable spot for a greenhouse? Put a greenhouse over EVERYTHING. Problem solved.
About the only flaw I can personally see in the plan (besides cost, city bylaws and talking Darcy into constructing the Mother of all greenhouses) would be access for birds, bees, butterflies and other bugs. I am not sure I would want to garden without them and it is possible the glass could even be deadly for birds, though maybe something could be figured out in that regard. If you have the ingenuity to build a greenhouse that drops over your entire house and yard, chances are you can figure out the nature element as well.
But oh, what a treat it would be to go outside on a sunny winter day and just hang out in your yard. Imagine strolling about your deck in shorts (or coatless anyway), sipping a cold drink, checking out your garden, pausing to wave at your neighbours bundled up in their winter gear, snow blowing their driveways.
Well, that might not go over too well.
It would only be a matter of time before one of them accidentally on purpose aimed a piece of gravel towards your glass house, and you could hardly blame them. Maybe you could host enough gatherings to create goodwill.
Oh! I just thought of another tick for the Yes side. We are getting ready to have our shingles and eaves trough replaced. This would negate the need entirely. What a tremendous cost savings. How thrifty am I?
Win, win, I say.
Though I’m pretty sure What? What? is what Darcy will say.
All joking aside it’s still an interesting concept, even if it won’t work for us (as much as I think I’d like it to).
If you’re curious about the couple who have actually made this dream a reality you can find all the details, including a video featuring this unique home, by clicking here.
I am a bit of an introvert. And by a bit, I mean totally. My favourite activities are writing, reading, art, gardening and taking long walks. All things I do alone, except for the latter. Sometimes (pre ankle injury) I take my long walks with Darcy.
After a day of nonstop interacting with people at work, Darcy and I tend to spend all our shared downtime alone. We enjoy the ease that comes after sharing almost four decades of each other’s companionship.
A few days ago marked 36 years of marriage, so we decided to celebrate by watching a movie. Usually this means firing up Netflix and settling in on the couch but, because it was our anniversary, we decided to go all out and head down to the theatre.
There is nothing like watching a movie with a crowd. Sure, sometimes people talk or check their phones or do other annoying things, but it is all part of the experience. I enjoy sharing the gasps, the laughs and the tears with a group, even a group of strangers.
So off we went for an anniversary afternoon of popcorn, people mingling and the full on movie experience.
And? We went into the theatre and we were the only ones there. We were the only ones as the light dimmed, we were the only ones through fifteen minutes of ads and trailers and we were the only two in the entire theatre as our movie began.
At one point I almost forgot we were in a theatre altogether and was going to tell Darcy to pause the movie while I went to the washroom. Which was pretty much the only difference in the whole experience. No remote control.
The movie was pretty good though. And the last 36 years of marriage? Well, those have been pretty good too.
I was at one of our local nurseries today and I see they have small bags of white clover seed for sale in their lawn grass section.
The bags aren’t big and they were priced at 19.99 but a little goes a long way. As you can see by reading the packaging, the 700 g bags are equivalent to 1 1/2 pounds which should be enough to more than cover 3,000 square feet.
It is possible that an agricultural seed place would have it in big bags for a lot cheaper so if you are doing a country lawn it might be worth phoning around.
Mostly I was just cheered up to see it readily available in the lawn seed section. If they are selling, someone has to be buying, which means we really are coming full circle and starting to make smart choices for the planet.
What if you could have a lawn that rarely needed watering, was naturally weed free, aerated the soil on its own, was soft to walk on, attracted beneficial insects, seldom needed mowing, stayed a luscious green even after Rover peed on it and was self fertilizing?
Well, back in the 1950s those were the precise qualities of a prestigious lawn plant marketed to savvy consumers. What happened to it? It was too easy. It worked so well there was no money to be made.
The solution? To usher in the era of finicky grass seed, lawn fertilizer, weed killers, sprinklers and lawn mowers that we know and use today.
What was the name of the once prestigious lawn plant that proved too easy for its own good?
With its deep root system clover tolerates compacted soil better than grass and is able to tap into moisture at lower levels which is why it requires far less watering. These qualities make clover highly competitive and able to choke out weed competition, negating the need for herbicides.
And forget the fertilizer too. Clover has the clever ability to snatch nitrogen right out of the air and pull it down into nodes along its roots, making it self-fertilizing.
Clover’s small sweet honey scented flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects, as well as making them a delight for your own senses. Dutch White is the most commonly used clover for lawns, growing only four to eight inches high and hardy to Zone 4.
We have been taught to view the white clover blossoms as an eyesore, but if you take the time to look closely they are really quite pretty.
Left to its own intelligent devices, nature will always choose the most suitable blend of grasses and herbs for your lawn, which in the Peace Country most likely includes Alsike, the clover that naturally invades our lawns. Alsike grows taller and so requires more frequent mowing than Dutch White, but it is also much hardier, so better suited to our climate.
I’ll leave you with the following excerpt harvested from the book “New Way to Kill Weeds” by R. Milton Carleton.
“The thought of White Dutch Clover as a lawn weed will come as a distinct shock to old-time gardeners. I can remember the day when lawn mixtures were judged for quality by the percentage of clover seed they contained. The higher this figure, the better the mixture…I can remember the loving care which old-time gardeners gave their clover lawns. The smug look on the face of the proud homeowner whose stand was the best in the neighbourhood was something to behold.”
R. Milton Carleton from “New Way to Kill Weeds”
I feel like we are coming full circle and enough people are either concerned about the environment or sick of caring for their lawns that we are approaching an era where we will be “clover smug” once again!
I have tried to grow sweet potatoes several times over my many years of gardening, but with little success. Once I harvested a handful out of a half whiskey barrel in a greenhouse, but that was it.
I tried starting my own slips from organic store bought potatoes that were probably terrible variety choices for our northern climate. That didn’t work out at all. Twice I ordered slips from Nova Scotia to be shipped clear across Canada because the variety was supposed to be cold climate friendly. Or as cold climate friendly as a heat loving sweet potato can get.
Unfortunately the first time the slips arrived they were put into our rural group mailbox located about a mile from our house during a week where the nighttime temperatures were dropping below zero. More unfortunately, I didn’t always pick up the mail on the same day it was delivered. The 12 precious slips camped out in the mailbox for at least one entire night and maybe as many as three.
They may have been suited for a colder climate, but not that kind of a colder climate. I tried to revive them but it was all for naught. The next year I tried again, this time picking up the mail every single mail day morning without fail. That was the year I managed to harvest a handful from the whiskey barrel. And then we moved.
I don’t have a greenhouse (yet) at our new (to us) house so I didn’t bother ordering any slips.
And yet…I have a sweet potato all the same!
When I went out to the compost bin today I spotted this poking out of a tiny slit in the side of the bin…
Here’s a look at the whole bin…you can just make out the leaves poking out two ridges down on the right.
It’s been awhile, but I am ninety percent sure it is a sweet potato. It must have hatched out of a peel that got tossed into the compost.
So now it’s a bit of a dilemma. The bin is full and has been cooking at full throttle for about a week, but in the last few days it has slowly started cooling down.
I know this because I have one of those garden nerd compost thermometers that look exactly like something you would use if you were cooking a turkey for a giant. It has a button thermometer attached to a foot long steel skewer that you insert into the bin. The thermometer shows when the compost is in the cooking zone, when it is hot and when it is cold.
My compost just tickled the underside of getting hot before it started falling back down into the cooking zone. This means it is time to fork the compost about, give it a few turns and put it all back in to heat up and cook some more.
But then out sprouts what I think is a sweet potato leaf.
I love sweet potatoes. Obviously. Which is how so many peels got into the compost in the first place and why I keep trying to grow them.
So now I am thinking if I just leave it alone it might like growing in the compost bin. It’s certainly warm enough, and even as it cools down the black walls should keep the roots nice and cozy without frying them. Since it has popped out fairly high up the bin, that would allow for all kinds of potatoes to grow below.
However, if I want to make a few batches of compost this summer I need to turn the contents often and hurry things along so I have enough compost to amend all my beds in the fall.
So which do I want more…sweet potatoes maybe or compost for certain?
I am not a gambler and my motto has always been a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but I think I will take a chance on this one. I will just have to start another compost bin/pile elsewhere.
Who knows? Maybe by chance my compost bin has discovered a whole new way to grow sweet potatoes in the north without a greenhouse.