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Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Gardening toddlerIn April, I wrote about how Bee and I were spending afternoons cooking together. Then the weather changed.

It got warm and I wanted to go outside in the afternoon and not be stuck in the kitchen. I started preparing as much of dinner as possible during nap time in order to be able to take Bee outside after her nap. Turns out she’s quite the Nature Girl and loves being outside!

We spend lots of time in the backyard, where she likes to explore, dig in the dirt, collect worms, observe bugs with great curiosity, run, climb,… I take advantage of the time and her growing independence to garden, having her help me if she’s interested.

The first time she saw me planting seeds, she wanted to plant some too, of course. I set her up with a pot of earth and some older seeds. She redefined square-foot gardening that day!

Gardening toddler

Bee planting whatever seeds she could get her hands on. Now that’s square foot gardening!

Gardening toddler

Making sure it looks nice… or just having fun sticking popsicle sticks in the soil.

Gardening toddler

Watering to help the seeds grow.

Square foot gardening by a toddler

About three weeks later: peas, radishes, flowers, arugula, and probably other sprouts too!

Meanwhile I had some reinforcements (my parents) help David and me set up some additional vegetable growing beds. That meant moving all of our perennials to the front, which has gone from looking rather dismal to quite delightful — we just increased our curb appeal! I think it will look lovely next spring when all the bulbs bloom.

Last weekend David planted our tomato seedlings. The new setup with grow light worked wonders. The seedlings look strong and grew straight.

Tomato seedlings, week 2

The tomato seedlings under the grow light after two weeks. When David planted them they were taller, but just as straight and strong.

Meanwhile I sowed carrot, chard, beet, spinach, radicchio, kale, cabbage and salsify seeds in our new plots. I also put a second batch of seeds under our grow lights. Those eggplants, cucumbers and zucchini seedlings should be ready to plant in two-three weeks — along with various beans and edamame — when the soil is nice and warm.

I’m already harvesting radishes and baby greens. This weekend I’ll put in some more radish, arugula and mesclun mix seeds to make sure we have an ongoing supply of greens and garnishes for salad.

First harvest of baby greens: mesclun salad mix and kaleI’m excited for this year’s gardening season: more space, new opportunities, getting my hands dirty, lots of fun!

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Seed boxOh how lovely it was, digging my fingers into some potting soil this morning!

Bee was at her grandparents’. I covered the table and floor with plastic tablecloths, turned on some tunes and got out my gardening supplies and seeds.

This year, I’m starting my seeds with the help of a grow light for the first time. I opted for a simple three-foot grow bulb stand. Although I’m somewhat concerned that it will not provide as much light as I need — I think I’d need two bulbs for optimal coverage — I figure it will still give me better results than in previous years.

In previous years, I always ended up with tall scraggly seedlings with funny twisted stems. No surprise, since the seedlings would lean towards the window light. Then I’d rotate the flat and they’d lean in the other direction, growing spindly as they fought for light.

Despite their less than desirable appearance, they would always grow into strong, productive plants once in the garden. The tough part was the transplanting. They were fragile; the stems would easily break. And I’d be minus one or two plants. I’m hoping my new setup will give me strong plants from the start, which will make transplanting easier.

Starting seeds. New setup with simple grow light.

The new setup means I have less space for seedlings. That’s ok though. Last year, I started some seeds too early (zucchini, cucumbers, beans). They grew faster than I expected and in the end I couldn’t maintain them until it was warm enough to plant them.

This morning I planted only tomatoes (I’m excited about all the new varieties I got for this year: Sasha’s Pride, Cougar, Sunsugar, Black Krim, Amish Paste, and more!), eggplant, wild arugula (a non-bolting perennial I’m trying for the first time) and chives. For the other vegetables, I’ll either direct sow them when the earth is warm or start them early May, closer to transplanting time.

In the meantime, I’m eager for the remaining snow to melt, so David and I can whip the beds into shape and plant those cool earth-loving seeds like peas, snow peas, fava beans (trying again hoping to get it right this year), mesclun mix and other early lettuces.

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Dad's dried apple slices

Dad’s dried apple slices. (The red apple in the picture is not one of my parents’ apples.)

Sometimes things get lost in my cupboard. The dried apple slices made by my dad are one of those things. The other day I saw the bag peeking out from behind other bags and boxes, and, all of a sudden, I thought, “Perfect!”

I’ve seen the teething bagels and cookies at the store, but these apple slices are the perfect shape, size and texture to act as all-natural teething rings!

Apple tree blossoms

My parents’ apple tree blossoms, early May.

The apple tree was there when they bought the house more than 25 years ago. Although they brought apple and tree specimens to numerous botanists, no-one has been able to identify the type of apple. And the tree produces lots of them, year after year.

They are relatively big and round apples, rather tart, better for cooking and baking than for eating out of hand. My dad makes them into cider, apple sauce, dried apple slices, and gives them away. My mom stocks the freezer with sliced apples, and makes apple pie and apple crisp.

I get a regular supply of dried apple slices. My dad makes them crisp rather than soft like most store-bought ones. And they have flavour, unlike most store-bought ones!

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice.

Baby loves them! They keep her busy for a while. She tears at the rings with her two little teeth and then sucks on them until they are soft. It makes me happy to think that Baby is getting all that love and goodness from my parents’ backyard.

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Tall beans grown from seed indoorsThis year I decided I would start beans indoors for the first time, to give them a head start and hopefully find the “success” in succession planting.

Beans grown from seed indoorsWell, I am having success of some sort. The beans are growing fast and furious, already reaching past the tops of the two-foot stakes I put in the little pots. What am I going to do until I’m able to plant them outdoors?!

Beans are usually among the last seeds to be planted since the earth needs to be warm for them them to germinate. That means, they go in at the end of May. But my seeds have already germinated, so I wonder if I could plant them outdoors a little earlier?

Based on some discussion threads on gardening websites, it sounds like:

  • I may have planted the beans indoors a little too early.
  • They can handle being transplanted to cooler soil.
  • I should harden them outside in a protected location for a week prior to planting.

With this information, I’ve decided to transplant the beans sometime early May and see what happens. Until then, I’ll try to get them to train up something flexible.

I’ll also sow some beans directly outside at the end of May to make sure I get beans sometime this summer. In the end, I have nothing to lose (except a couple of plants) if my experiment doesn’t work out.

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Pan-fried black salsify, overwintered and harvested in SpringTwo Autumns ago, I didn’t get around to digging up the black salsify before Winter covered the garden with a blanket of snow. I was pleasantly surprised last Spring to discover that it had overwintered beautifully – even through Ottawa’s cold winter.

After digging up the deep-reaching black roots, David prepared the salsify in a simple pan-fry and it was delicious. Tender, sweet, subtle, creamy. I’d say the winter even improved its texture and flavour.

Last Fall, we were lazy again… and rewarded again with a healthy harvest of black salsify this spring. What a way to maximise the garden! At the end of the season, we’re busy eating the chard and kale. By spring, we’re so happy to eat something different and fresh, even if it’s only one meal.

Preparing black salsify is a bit of a pain, because of its sticky sap. Usually we peel it, immerse it immediately in lemon water, then boil it until tender in some vegetable stock. Finally we pan fry it with a generous amount of butter, a couple of springs of thyme and season it with salt and pepper.

I just read though that it can be boiled first and then peeled. We’ll have to try that method next spring!

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Fresh asparagus for sale at the Farmers' Market in BaltimoreThe local asparagus season is here! I love asparagus, so I’ve been eating my fill: roasted, steamed, tossed as a salad, soup (including my version of  Tom khaa kai with asparagus) and, one of my favourites, in quiche. Loaded with asparagus in a delightful custard, this quiche makes a perfect light spring meal. Serve it with a fresh salad of spring greens!

Recipe: Asparagus Quiche

Asparagus quiche

1 recipe pastry dough (This time I made mine with spelt flour, added a 1/4 cup of ground flax seed to the mix, and reduced the butter from 1/2 cup to 7 tbsp.)
1 kg asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
3/4 cup of heavy cream
3/4 cup of milk
3 eggs, beaten lightly
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
butter/olive oil to sauté asapragus

Heat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9″ quiche pan.

Prepare the pastry dough. Roll it out to 1/4″ thick and line the quiche pan. Weigh it down and blind bake it for 10-15 minutes. Remove weights and continue baking for another 10 minutes until lightly coloured. Remove from oven.

Sauté asapragus in butter/olive oil for approx. 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Combine the lightly beaten eggs with cream, milk and seasonings.

Place sauteed asparagus in quiche shell. Pour egg and cream mixture over asparagus.

Bake 25-35 minutes until lightly browned and mixture is set. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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First harvest of 2011: mesclun mix greens and radishes picked on May 24, 2011Yesterday — May 24, 2011 — we ate a small mesclun salad and radishes harvested from the garden. Yes, our very own, already! I could barely contain my excitement to be eating from my garden so early in the season.

This year I took the risk of planting some cold-hardy seeds early in the season. I think it was the weekend of April 16. I planted peas, snow peas, mesclun salad, mâche, a kale mix and radishes. The weather forecast looked promising: above 10 degrees, but not yet too warm. Perfect for these cool loving plants. Besides, I figured, if they don’t grow now, I’ll just plant again later.

Then the weather, not surprisingly, changed. It stayed below 10 degrees. It rained, a lot. Nevertheless, the seeds sprouted. My risk is being rewarded. Now I’ll try some succession planting, and put in second rows of peas and snow peas. It will be interesting to see how the growth of the two rows compares.

Cool weather-loving seeds include peas, snow peas, arugula, radishes, mesclun mix, kale and mâche lettuce

Cool weather-loving seeds growing strong.

Meanwhile I also planted the tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seedlings I’ve been growing indoors since mid-March. This year, to avoid transplanting small seedlings from starter cells to pots, I planted them directly into small pots. Although it was less work, I ended up with some scraggly looking seedlings with long, thin and crooked stems. I think the earth in my pots wasn’t sufficiently packed and I didn’t plant deep enough. Also, the pots were near a window on a tray, which means that they were always leaning toward the light, giving me crooked stems. I’ll have to revise my strategy next year.

The tomatoes in particular looked pretty sad when I planted them outside last Saturday. I thought the strong winds would take some of them down. But my scraggly seedlings literally weathered the storm and are looking perky today. (Nothing like the few we bought at the nursery, but I’m confident they’ll catch up and produce as much fruit as the others.)

I’m excited about the garden this year.

Cabbage seedling planted among tulips and perennial flowers

Cabbage seedling planted among tulips and perennial flowers.

I switched things up again after realizing that some plants were not well paired last year, e.g. the pole beans created too much shade for the Swiss chard planted in front of them. I’m also trying companion planting for the first time. The tomatoes are sharing a bed with carrots and spring onions. The beans, planted in a new location that should allow for easier climbing and picking, are matched up with herbs. Cabbage family plants (incl. broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower) are not good companions for most other vegetables – with the exception of kohlrabi, which is playing host to beets and lettuce – so they’re being kept separate, in some places interspersed among the perennials in the flower bed. Nasturtiums, calendula flowers and sunflowers will make for some colourful borders.

Me and my belly planting seedlingsMost of the hard work is done. Now Mother Nature can do her magic. And I’ll focus on the not-so-small-anymore sprout growing inside me.

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