I just want to state right at the outset, that I have no affiliation with Storey.com whatsoever, but I am always stalking them for their flash sales. If you are an e-book reader it is a cheap way to build up your garden e-library.
I see they have one of my all-time favourite books on flash sale right now for just $2.99. Despite already having a hard copy AND an e-copy I was so excited I almost tried to buy another one. Ha. Anyway, I thought I would pass it along here in case anyone was interested. Just click on the book and it should take your straight to the site.
The only issue I have now with The Backyard Homestead, is our lot isn’t even a quarter of an acre – the land base starting point for self sufficiency in the book. However, since I’m not trying to raise any animals, I have plenty room to grow most of our vegetables and some fruit. This book is a treasure trove of information on how much to plant. It is always amazing what you can cram into small spaces when you put your mind to it!
My houseplants are always the first to tell me when spring is near. Nature is so miraculous that way. I can’t understand how indoor plants know it is time to kick the grow cycle into a higher gear, but they do.
They coast their way along through the winter, with me doing my best not to overwater. Weeks go by with scarcely a change. Then suddenly they start sucking back the drinks like crazed pirates who have been at sea for three months with no rum. I can’t seem to water them often enough. New shoots burst out, they are constantly dry and the growth spurt is on.
How does that work? I have most of them under a grow light which still goes on before first light and stays on until well past dark, so it isn’t the lengthening days. I haven’t even increased the amount of nutrients they get. Most are tropical plants who wouldn’t even experience winter and spring in their natural environment, and yet, they still know growing season has arrived in The Peace.
I thanked my houseplants for the heads up, and proceeded to start my onions. I never have a lot of luck growing big storage onions, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. This year I sowed three varieties I haven’t tried before; Hybrid Genesis, Alisa Craig and Exhibition Hybrid. Fingers crossed.
I also directly sow onion bulbs in the spring, which can always be counted on for small onions and greens, but what I want are tennis ball-sized storage ones that last most of the winter. Maybe this will be the year!
Last fall I changed over all my houseplants from potting soil to leca clay balls. You can buy them by the 50 kg sack, though they also come in smaller bags. They remind of moose turds, Fortunately just by look, not feel. Not that I have ever touched a moose turd…but I am seriously digressing.
Here’s what they look like…
The balls are about an inch around or so and very porous. They absorb water, but also allow roots to breathe. You arrange them under and around a plant’s roots just as you would potting soil, then you just put a pot that drains inside of a decorative catch pot and keep the bottom couple inches filled with water, fortified with nutrients. It has made a huge difference as far as aphids and other little critters go. My houseplants have spent a pest free winter, which I am sure they appreciate. They seem happy and healthy enough.
I also love that the balls can be reused indefinitely, so unlike potting soil, they will never need replacing. It makes me feel much better than repeatedly buying bags of potting soil and then having all the plastic to contend with, not to mention shipping emissions, peat, etc. This way it is once and done. If a plant dies you can simply take out the plant and reuse the balls for another.
The only big drawback is the cost. I think I paid about thirty-five dollars for a large bag, but two were enough to change over all my houseplants with a generous amount left over. They have some at Dunvegan here in Fort St John, but it is likely available in lots of other places as well.
This year I am even trying to start my garden seeds using leca. The obvious problem is the balls are large and the seeds are tiny and they will just tumble around and slide to the bottom. This winter I managed to successfully start a couple Holy Basils from seed, by pulverizing some leca balls and using the dust to create a solid layer above the clay balls, and sowing the seed into that. However, smashing the balls up wasn’t easy. I eventually put the balls in a bag, placed the bag on the garage floor and took a hammer to it, but those little suckers are determined to stay in one piece.
For my spring seeding, I decided to compromise by buying a bag of vermiculite and spreading an inch or so on top of the leca balls and sowing my onion seeds into that. I am not sure how it will go come transplanting time, but we will see.
Nothing is up yet, but then again, it has only been about three hours. Ha.
I am holding off on starting my tomatoes for a couple more weeks, as I always seem to do it too soon and then they are way too desperate for the outdoors long before its time to go out, sort of like me. It would be different if you were seeding heirlooms with long maturity dates or had a greenhouse, but since I have to plant mine outdoors I need varieties that mature quickly in northern climates. All that said, I will likely cave and seed them soon. And by soon, probably by the end of the day!
I follow several blogs and vlogs. It can be a bit disconcerting when one just stops posting new stuff without any explanation.
Did they die? Were they kidnapped? Inhaled by an alien? Did they fall on the sidewalk, hit their head and lose their way back to their keyboard? Are they out there even now, just wandering the streets, with no idea who they are or what they used to do with their free time? When content stops coming, you are simply left to wonder your wonders. But I get it. Life happens.
The last post I wrote was in July 2019 when I promised to show pictures of the potatoes in our front yard the very next week. And then I never posted again. Until now. While I highly doubt anyone has been missing me or giving a second thought to not getting to see those promised pictures of the potager potato patch, I apologize nonetheless.
Darcy retired at the end of July and we spent the rest of the summer doing a raft of home renos and regrouping. We are currently in a stage of “what now” and “what next.” While the exit from the business that had consumed our lives for the better part of three decades was very intentional, there was not a lot of thought given as to what would happen afterwards. We still aren’t sure.
Will we move yet again? Stay put? Start a new venture? There’s a lot to consider as we head into the latter stage of our lives. All I can say for certain is wherever life takes us (or doesn’t) there will be a garden. I hope.
But enough of all that. Here, six months late, is a picture of those potatoes!
The potatoes are in the middle bed. There ended up being a decent harvest. Decent enough we are still eating potatoes from the garden in January. Well, we are actually eating potatoes from storage in the garage, not from the garden, but you know what I mean. It’s January in the Peace Country after all.
As for the community garden, I only got two hills worth of new potatoes before someone made off with every single spud. All 34 hills. At once. I couldn’t believe it.
I’ve participated in several community gardens over the years, though this was my first in this particular location. When you grow vegetables in an open and easily accessible communal space, you expect to lose some of your produce. It’s simply par for the course. However, I wasn’t expecting to lose it all. It was so shocking it was kind of funny.
Our summer walks often take us past the school and its community gardens and that’s what we were doing when we discovered the loss.
As we strolled by, we both automatically looked over at my four garden beds and were stopped in our tracks at the sight-or lack thereof-of potato tops. On closer inspection the tops had all been neatly piled in a heap at one end of the four freshly dug up beds.
At least I got two massive garbage bags worth of compost ingredients for my bins. Ha.
They even made off with the cabbages and chard. The only thing left was one lonely cabbage plant and that was just because it had a wee half-formed head. When I cleaned up the potato tops I considered pulling up the tiny cabbage out of spite, but I just couldn’t do it.
A week later the cabbage-still small but apparently deemed big enough for the soup pot-was gone as well. All I could do was laugh and hope whoever took everything needed it more than us. And who knows, maybe the taste of home grown vegetables will inspire them to grow their own garden this year and in turn change their lives. It could happen.
The new garden season has officially begun with the arrival of seed catalogues. Despite not being sure where life will take us next, I will still be planting a few seeds. Though probably not in the community garden.
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.