In all the years my partner and I have been together, despite our love of fresh greens and vegetables, this marks the first time we have seeded anything indoors to get a headstart for the garden. Now most of our years together have been in apartment buildings where the best we could hope for in terms of gardening were a few plants by the window or balcony, but we've lived in houses a couple times before and somehow found the whole indoor seeding intimidating.
That's our set-up. Since I was already in the garage-cum-workshop building a custom enclosure for my bicycle cargo trailer, I got inspired and quickly put together this lamp stand, partially pictured. It allows for easy adjustment of lamp height and keeps the cords out of the way.
This time we went ahead and got the necessary items, including spot-gro lamps, to do it. What pushed us over the edge were the wonderful heirloom seeds we got at Hamilton's Seedy Saturday event some weeks ago. I simply couldn't pass those wonderful seeds up. I love LOVE biting or slicing into huge, juicy heirloom tomatoes grown in my own garden, and I knew these were both heirloom stock and organic.
Yesterday, just five days after seeding them, the Purple Calabash tomatoes began peeking out of the ground. So exciting!
And then this morning I heard Jihan's excited announcement that one of the Jaune Flammee tomatoes had joined the others.
When I was a kid my mom used to encourage us kids (I have one sister and four brothers) to each grow a little plot of vegetables and compete for the nicest, most bountiful garden. She taught us to always put three seeds in each hole as you never knew which seed would be viable. That way at least one out of three should be viable and there would be no empty spots. So I did the same for indoor seeding and, as you can probably see, two Purple Calabash are growing in one pot and all three in the other. I'm a little nervous about separating them -- I certainly don't want to cull them (they're my babies) -- but will probably try after they have a second set of true leaves (per some advice found on online fora). If anyone has any tips, I'd be happy to hear them.
Now I have to wait for the Cosmonot Volkov tomatoes and both my Thai hot red finger chillies and Scotch Bonnet peppers to emerge. I've read that the hot peppers, the hotter the variety, need lots of warmth to germinate and may take up to 18 days... It's hard to wait that long!
Oh, and outside our garlic is looking wonderful. I forgot to take a picture of them. They are now about 4 - 6 inches tall. We had planted 58 in late fall and 54 have come up and are looking really nice. I'll try to get a pic of those up later today or tomorrow. Happy growing!
Vegan Miscellanies may well return full force next spring. Moving back into a house, and not one shared with anyone else, has got me all excited about gardening again. And from gardening follows cooking.
A few weeks ago I went to the Stratford Garlic Festival where I not only immersed myself in all things garlic for a few hours, sampling various garlic dips, jellies and pesto, acquiring a couple of garlic-related kitchen items and attending talks on growing and braiding garlic. I also left with a bag of Ontario-grown, organic, hard-neck garlic to plant. I learned there that the best time to put garlic into the ground is late September through early October, before any chance of frost. Fortunately our friend and future landlady, into who's house we are moving at the end of October, was kind enough to let us prepare our garlic growing plot before we even move in and while she is still living there.
My partner, Jihan, checking out the location of our garlic and pepper plot.
So last weekend, though rainy for much of it, we were able to go to her/our soon-to-be-home to dig up a section of sod in the most sunny, southerly portion of the yard for our garlic and pepper plot.
The plot dug up with much of the sod removed.
We had to stop short of removing all the sod from the plot last Saturday because of the rain, so we returned this weekend to not only finish that but also to construct a cedar wood frame for square foot gardening.
The frame put in place.
Divided into square feet with jute string, though I intend to create a better, more sturdy and durable wooden divider. A total of 42 square feet.
Garlic in the ground, covered by a thick layer of mulch for the winter.
We are so excited about this! The last time we tried growing our own garlic, in the fall of 2008, we had put it into the ground and covered it for the winter, but had to move out, for reasons I shall not delve into here, just as a few garlic scapes began poking out of the ground in the spring. We were unable to enjoy that harvest and, it appears, the tenants who moved in after us never did anything with the plot.
In this plot we have planted 58 bulbs of garlic, leaving just one square foot empty for something else. We are thinking of allowing 3 of the 58 plants to flower, both for the beauty of their flowers and for the bulbules/seed. We are not sure yet whether we will set aside up to a quarter of the yield for the following year.
In the northern/bottom rectangle, also 21 square feet, we intend to plant various peppers, from red finger chillies to jalapenos to scotch bonnet to bell peppers.
In the plot against the garage wall, on the other side of the walkway, we will leave the lavender in place and add pole beans and tomatoes (hopefully two or three heirloom varieties).
The yard has three more sections where we can garden -- another strip against the fence near the house for various lettuces (as it gets less sun), a small mound of about 4 square feet of herbs (sweet basil, holy basil, Thai basil, sage, rosemary, french tarragon), some of which are perennials, and a 63' plot (rough estimate) next to the house on the western side. It is this largest section we have not yet planned out, though we have some ideas. But we have the winter to plan that.
So with the move into a nice little house with lots of gardening opportunities, I may well bring this blog back to life with more frequent posts on our gardening (and other urban/local gardening-related issues) and our cooking (with occasional reviews of other local food-related issues). Look for more vegan miscellanies next spring!
In 1996, the year my partner and I got married, we went to see Microcosmos at the same little independent movie theatre where we had our first date on November 27th, 1993. The film is so well executed, with minimal narration, stunning microphotography, and hypnotic music, that the viewer is brought back to the wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonderment of childhood.
One very memorable scene in the film was of ants with their aphid cattle. Humans are not the only beings to develop and engage in farming and animal husbandry, by the way. Some ants engage in underground fungus farming, while others raise herds of domestic aphids whom they carefully tend for their 'milk', or honeydew.
What brought me to sharing this? Well, interestingly, it was the discovery of aphid farming ants in my own garden. Fortunately they have stayed well away (I think) from my tomatoes and pumpkin, choosing instead to set up their farms and tending to their herds on the fava bean plants I grew as a cover crop to enrich the soil. It turns out the aphids, black aphids in this case, prefer nitrogen rich foods.
Unfortunately my camera lacks manual focus, making it very difficult to focus on the ants and their aphid herds rather than the plants. After some experimentation, the ants came into fairly decent focus, but the aphids still look like blurry blobs.
While I find all this very fascinating, I am concerned about these ants migrating to and damaging other plants in my garden. If anyone has advice as to what to do to prevent them from damaging next year's garden, please share.
Though I had a week off recently, I was so busy with all kinds of errands that I did not get to do much reading or blogging.
Here, however, are some updates:
Accidental Grape Candy Mom recently gave me some not-quite-ripe grapes from her backyard, saying I could make grape jelly out of them. I didn't have any pectin on hand, so I did a little research on the web into pectin-free jellies.
I read that unripe fruit is high in natural pectin, and that fruit high in acidity, like grapes, don't require the addition of pectin when some unripe fruit is added. Hey, I thought, the bulk of my grapes are not quite ripe, so it should be high in natural pectin.
So I began. I washed the grapes and put them in a small pot together with a little raw sugar (about 1/4 sugar to about 2 cups of grapes). I began heating them on low heat and simmering for a while until it looked nice and juicy. I then put everything into a cheesecloth and hung it over a bowl for a few hours to collect the juice. The juice went back on the stove to simmer for a while longer. I thought I used the spoon test to check for the requisite thickness before removing it from the stove, but was I ever wrong...
Turns out I'd boiled it way to long. That or there was way more pectin in the juice than expected, because after transferring the mixture to a small container and cooling it in the fridge, what I got wasn't jelly at all, but rather hard grape candy. Isn't that called serendipity? Though rather tart, the candy wasn't half bad! We both enjoyed it.
Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Don't they look yummy? They were, but I was bad and forgot to write down the recipes. Sorry. I'll try both again and remember to share.
Evolution of Our Solitary Pumpkin
Remember my post a little while back on pumpkin sex? Well here you go. One pumpkin from pollinated flower to baby to adolescent. It's just beginning to turn a yellow that will, hopefully soon, deepen into orange. Perhaps having just one is dangerous. Too much doting. And should any critter touch it before it is ripe, dog help me to keep my lower impulses in check!
I wanted to write a post about the blueberry grunts I made last weekend much earlier, but simply didn't get around to it. The blueberry grunts pictured above don't look as nice as Lolo's, and probably didn't taste quite as good either, but they were, nevertheless, a delicious treat. I'm not being humble here--they don't look quite as good because of those cute little gratin dishes she made hers in, and the taste was a bit on the grainy side because I had no unbleached white flour and therefore used the durum atta flour I had on hand. Durum atta flour is an Indian whole wheat flour ideal for samosas, chappatis, puris, parathas, etc. We did however grunt with, err, blueberry delight.
In other news, my garden, though begun much too late in the season, is looking very nice. Looks more like an early summer garden than a late one, but I think we'll get some tomatoes out of it anyway. And maybe a small pumpkin or two as well. See below.
Here are some of the tomatoes. Still a bit small, but looking nice. I must admit I'm getting a bit impatient. I so want to eat tomatoes from my own garden--sliced on toast with margarine, diced into tofu scramble, pureed in a sauce, etc.
I know, on to the pumpkin sex. WTF am I talking about? Well, for some time now our little pumpkin plant has been producing a lot of flower buds. So, while waiting impatiently, I did a little research and learned all about the birds bugs and the bees in relation to pumpkins. I learned that pumpkin plants have unisexual flowers, both male and female flowers on the same plant, and rely on insects to carry the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. The male flowers, as could be expected using a human analogy, grow several inches out, while the female flowers stay close to the plant.
With the decline in bee populations, it is increasingly recommended that humans get involved in pumpkin sex. This is especially so for prize pumpkin growers and those, like myself, who have only one or two plants in their gardens. What the human needs to do, apparently, is to take the stamen from a male flower and use it to dust the female plant with pollen to fertilize it. One can even, for extra security, place the stamen right into the female flower (sex toys, anyone?). Anyway, as you can see from my pictures, I don't need to get into the action, but can remain a voyeur, as there are most definitely bees and other insects present. I watched the same insects flying back and forth between the male and female flowers. I think fertilization will happen without my intervention, though I did snap some pictures of the pumpkin porn for you to view :>).
We're back in the hammer now, having moved here June 29th, and have pretty much settled in. It's been slow because Jihan injured her leg, taking her largely out of the picture as far as moving in and getting things organized, and because of a longer commute with long working hours.
Anyway, we're here and we are trying to make the best of the garden space we have at the new place. We were only able to put plants in the ground July 1st. We started with the poor tomato plants that we had kept in pots at the old place, most of which had grown so weak and lanky indoors that their tops broke off even before the tricky move. We weren't expecting much when we put them in the ground, but though the harvest will be late in the year, we think they'll pull through now. They've gotten much stronger, and all of them are beginning to flower again.
In front of the tomato plants I seeded radishes and carrots, both of which, I'm told, do well even in colder weather. And radishes can be grown two or three times a year, even here where we have cold winters. The radishes are coming up nicely, though those were seeded only on the 12th of this month. I can't wait to harvest fresh organic radishes to have on toast with margarine in the morning. Yum! The carrots are just beginning to poke out of the ground.
On the day I put the tomato plants in the ground, I also, quite on a whim, put a single organic pumpkin seed in the ground. I had only one left. Because I'd been taught to always put three seeds in each hole in case one or two didn't make it, I did not get my hopes up. But this little seed surprised us. Look at the gorgeous little plant. Once above the ground, it seems to grow about an inch a day.
While walking near the garage at the back of our yard, Jihan noticed something we had never seen before--giant slugs. After a little research, I am fairly confident that they are Leopard Slugs, or Limax maximus. Neither of us knew they existed here. The two we saw were both about four inches in length.
I hope these guys won't lust after my tomato plants. I know they like hostas, of which there are a couple in our yard, but I don't know if they also like vegetables. If anyone knows, please share.
As mentioned recently on this blog, I've begun sprouting seeds and legumes. I don't know why I didn't do it sooner. Maybe I had some notion about it being more complicated than it really is. Really, it is not complicated at all, nor does it take all that much time or energy.
Sproutpeople, for those interested in taking up sprouting, or just looking for more information or inspiration, is a very useful and informative site. For a detailed look at sprouting in a soil medium, as well as much besides, visit Tim Tyler's Sprouting.
So far I've sprouted organic, non-GMO seeds by mumm's -- Sandwich Booster (clover, alfalfa, radish, canola), Daikon Radish, and Red Clover. I've also sprouted garbanzo beans, otherwise known as chickpeas (not organic, unfortunately), and brown lentils (first batch currently underway).
Here are some pictures of my, err, operation.
I hope these pictures, as also my recipes, will inspire some of you to begin sprouting as well. So simple, yet so rewarding! For some ways sprouted chickpeas can be used, or at least how I've used them so far, see my posts on Raw Hummus and Sprouted Chickpea, Tomato, Avocado Salad. The latter is inspired by Banadura Basal, a Lebanese Tomato and Onion salad with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
I came home from work last night only to find my beautiful young
Brandywine heirloom tomato plant maimed in a vicious attack. Most of
the leaves on one side of the plant, and some on the other side, had
been amputated. My partner and I examined the leaves closely for
toothmarks, and the soil for pawprints, hoping to find out who, err
what, was responsible for this attack. The leaves were either torn off
or bitten off at the stem, leaving no visible toothmarks. And the soil,
though revealing some indentations, contained no pawprints clear enough
to reveal even the species.
We were left guessing. We have lots of birds around the house, drawn
from the adjacent ravine to our squirrel-proof birdfeeder. Birds would
not be interested in the plants, sans fruit, so we ruled them out right
away. Could squirrels be interested in tomato plants? We think not. Now
we know our feeder has pissed off many a rodent, from the tiny chipmunk
to midsized red squirrel to the common grey and black squirrel, but
that is insufficient cause for suspiction. Though frustrated, they
still lust mainly after the holy grail that is our blackoil
Chipmunks and squirrels may make unlikely suspects, but there is
another, much larger rodent at large, one that eminently fits the
suspect profile. I'm talking, of course, about the groundhog. They love
fresh greens! The problem is that I rarely see them around the house,
but a neighbour tells me there is at least one 'hog in the 'hood. I
can't rule them out, and therefore can't strike rodents entirely off my
Now to our prime suspect, namely the infamous, cute-and-cuddly, baby
machine that is the rabbit. The ravine has at least three or four adult
cottontails, and knowing their reproductive proclivity, plus having
seen a couple of little ones bounding merrily about, there may be, and
certainly could soon be, many more. And we all know what else rabbits
are famous for--the eating of leafy greens.
Though we really, really felt like finding the culprit and teaching
it a lesson, we wouldn't really know how to do that. Neither of us has
the heart to injure or kill the critters, so we are left with seeking
and implementing preventative measures. We did some research online and
in our organic gardening books and decided to concoct a sprayable
solution of garlic, cayenne and water. We sprayed this solution onto
and around the plants and sprinkled a little additional cayenne on the
soil, and so far, a day and night having passed without further
incident, it seems to work. We also read somewhere that rodents hate
mint, so we scattered dried mint leaves around the plant as well.
Wish us luck! And if you have any other clever, non-violent tricks
to keep critters away from organic plants and vegetables, please do