Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gettin' 'er done

For years we've been dealing with a mudpit of a front yard. It got torn up when we put the raised beds in, and between my tromping and the kids' trucks and water-fights and it being the last part of the property to shed its snow cover in May (or June), there's not much hope of growing grass there. We've been planning to put down flagstone but the time required to level and fit together a heap of natural stone is just too daunting for a couple of busy people with children hanging off them all the time. So tomorrow this fella here (that would me my husband, the lovely and talented Mark) is heading to the garden centre to pick up a load of pavers to neatly turn the space into a mudless island of stability where I can arrange pots and where the kids can play without having to be hosed down multiple times per day. I'm hoping to find some creeping thyme to transplant in the cracks around the edges, because that's just a lovely thing to have. I'll post more photos when we're all done!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My pretties...

My fellow students at the Master Gardener Summer School program had to endure my endless ramblings about my beloved crimson-flowered broad beans on two separate occasions. On the first day, we were asked to name our favourite plant as part of a getting-to-know-you ice-breaker. And I mean, really, a favourite plant? Is there really such a thing? Where to begin? But I had to name something, so I chose the crimson broadies, as they are so beautiful and so tasty, and as such really embody my vision of ornamental edible gardening.

Then on the last day, we had a session on developing our presentation skills. I'm usually pretty good at that kind of thing, but at that moment I was suffering the after-effects of some enthusiastic and alcohol-fueled camaraderie and was in no way fit to present on anything at all, so I just reached within, fumbled through my mental notes from five days before, and repeated it all, only in point form. Not a top-notch performance, but I think I should get extra points for standing upright for the entire 60-second presentation.

So I was quite delighted to find my darling broad beans flowering their little leguminous hearts out when I returned to Pleasant Street. The smell is such that it could carry you off to magical lands, and the flowers are a most splendid profound pink-red. The leaves are a little bit nibbled, but still as gorgeous as ever.

I order these each year from Heritage Harvest Seed, and I have never been disappointed. Each year I plan to keep some seed for next year, and each year I turn into a big greedy-guts and eat them all instead.
Occupational hazard of the edible ornamental gardener, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Less talk, more pics

I'm still trying to process all that I learned while I was away last week. I want to blather it all out, but where to start? Not just the classwork - although that was fantastic - but also the many things I learned from my fellow students, each of whom was coming to the table with their own experience and vision. It's times like this I veer off into utter cliché about each one of us being a unique plant in this great big garden called Earth. But I suppose that awe and wonder bring out the cliché in us all, right?

I took about eleventy thousand photos on the campus in Truro. Here are a few more.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On location: Truro!

A few pics from my first day on campus. Many tours, much brain, so soil samples, very mulch. I think I love it here. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A change is as good as a rest

My bags are (almost) packed, I'm (almost) ready to go to scenic Nova Scotia. I'm supposed to fly in to Halifax this afternoon, although there's a tropical cyclone trying to stop me. Damn you, tropical cyclone! As of right now my flight is delayed by an hour, and fingers crossed it won't budge from there.

I'm flying into Halifax and then heading on by bus (after a night of child-free merry-making) to the Dalhouse University agricultural campus in Truro (Bible Hill, actually), where I'll be enjoying the Master Gardener program summer school for five glorious, educational days. Just look at my schedule! Pruning! Mulching! Propagation techniques! Wheee!

The only hitch now is that my suitcase can barely fit the footwear I need to take with me, let alone my clothes.

Rainboots, walking shoes, and safety footwear? I managed to roll my raincoat up and squeeze in into one of my boots, but I'm not sure where everything else is going to go.

Without children to distract me, I'm hoping to be able to post through the week and let you all know what sort of adventures I'm getting up to. Or I might just spend every spare moment catching up on 11 years of fractured sleep...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Behold: the future

Sticks in a bucket? Yes, the best possible sticks in a bucket. After two years of lustily reading and re-reading the Green Barn Farm catalogue, I finally put in an order. I had a bit of extra pocket change, and I figured that rather than spend it on beer and chocolate, I should invest it. And what better to invest in than sustainability, right?

After years of struggling to grow vegetables in my back yard, I've finally accepted that it just doesn't get enough sun for most veggie plants' needs. My neighbours all have tall trees that block a lot of light, and I've spent the last five years being resentful about it. But enough of that. Who spends their time cursing at trees? Honestly, it's no way to live. If trees make you angry, you really have to reevaluate your priorities.

One of the go-to design concepts in permaculture is what's called food forest gardening, which is, essentially, creating a food system based on the way forests work. In a forest, there's typically a tall canopy layer, with a shorter layer of fruiting trees below that, then lower fruiting shrubs below that one. On the ground you have tall herbaceous plants and then your very low creepers and vines. You see this around here all the time: behind my dentist's office there is a large cherry tree, then a small apple tree below that, and below the apple tree there's a clump of raspberry canes. The cherry tree may have been put in deliberately, and maybe the apple, but I'm pretty sure the raspberries just showed up. There's a small copse of pie cherry trees near me, and they have raspberries growing under them, too. It seems to be just how they roll.

For my purposes, my neighbours' trees are my canopy layer. They are healthy and diverse: a massive maple (that I may tap for syrup in the spring, if the neighbours are amenable), an oak, a pine, a dogberry, a larch, and a sweet cherry. In my own yard I have a lilac and small Montmorency sour cherry tree that I put in last year. I picked up an aronia bush last weekend, and now I have my Green Barn order, which includes:
I also put in a second blackcurrant bush a couple weeks ago, and I have two young redcurrants and one white currant, and the gooseberry I cut back to nothing has come back beautifully. I put in a loganberry cane last year but it didn't survive the winter. My grapevine, however, survived nicely, which surprises the heck out of me, given the punishing winter we just endured. 

It is an awful lot of fruit to pack into one back yard, but it's all either shrubby or viney, so it's not going to take up too much space. And also, there is NO SUCH THING as too much fruit, especially when you have four kids. 

I should say that I had a great time talking to Ken Taylor, the owner of Green Barn Farms, on the phone when I was placing my order. Absolutely delightful. The man really, really loves his fruit trees. If you have time, curl up and watch this video. How can you not want to find some little corner of your yard for a fruit tree after seeing this? 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I grew it, I ate it

As soon as spring warms up, I start nibbling in the garden, but it usually takes a little while before I can scrounge together enough bits to make a proper dish, something more than a handful of oregano here or a sprinkling of chives there.

This year, my inaugural almost-everything-in-this-came-from-the-back-yard dish was a lovely kale and sorrel salad. 

We had some relatives over to celebrate my youngest kidlet's second birthday, and everyone was pleased with this salad. Well, everyone over the age of 30 - I'm not going to pretend that the small people ate anything other than croissants, grapes, and ice cream. 

I based my recipe on this one, substituting Granny Smith apples for the pear (there's not a decent-looking pear to be found in town right now), and pecans for the almonds, as I was already making an almond-flour cake and I hate repeating ingredients. I also threw in some julienned Jerusalem artichokes, which I harvested last week and need to use up before they shrivel up in the fridge, and Egyptian onion greens, because they were there, looking at me, when I went out to get the kale this morning. I included the unopened flower buds from the kale - they look like little broccoli florets and are quite tender and sweet, and picking them before they open will extend my harvest by keeping the plants from bolting. More kale! 

The kale is West Coast Kale from Perfectly Perennial Herbs and Seeds. The Egyptian onions are from the same source, and have been growing happily in my yard for about three years. The sorrel is just garden sorrel I planted ages ago and which has taken over a shady area of the yard. I'll definitely try this again with local apples in the fall (or pears if I can find some). Wild sorrel - the kind we call "sally suckers" here - would work great. too.