Thursday, July 29, 2010

Growing Zucchini

Our friends and neighbours are no longer answering our calls or letting us near their back door.  Apparently, they've had enough of our generous zucchini donations!

We have three zucchini plants in our garden and we get about three nice zucchinis a day - way more than our family of four can consume.  We eat it raw with dip, pan fried with butter, grilled with olive oil, in salads, in grilled veggie mixes and, our all-time favourite, in chocolate zucchini loaf.  Yum!

For eating purposes, we prefer our zucchini young and tender.  But, every year, we like to let one or two zucchinis grow as big as they can get.  Usually, we harvest the big guys at the end of August, dress them up, give them names and keep them as pets for a little while - good times at the Stewart house!

We have been fortunate that our zucchinis grow with little or no effort, but once in a while, we've noticed that we've had baby zucchinis wither away on the vine.  After similar comments from friends, we decided it was time to investigate this zucchini mystery.

Turns out it's not such a big mystery after all.  Having fruit "abort" happens quite often.  Here's my cole notes on zucchini fruit production to help explain this phenomenon.

Zucchini plants have two types of flowers - male flowers and female flowers.

  • Male flowers are smaller and last longer.  They are attached directly to the stem. The male flower has one stamen that includes the  anthers which carry the pollen.
  • Female flowers are bigger and are attached to an "emergent zucchini" (we call them baby zucchinis, scientists call them ovaries).  The female flowers have the pistil which contain the stigma (the four or five sticky bulby things).  The pollen has to reach the stigma for the baby zucchinis to grow.
  • The ovaries wither up or rot on the plant if  adequate pollination does not occur.  Pollination is affected by temperature, moisture, and the presence of pollinators (aka bees).  If any of those are out of whack, you'll find shrivelled up zucchini (or squash of any kind).  
If you still don't get zucchini - call us, we'd be glad to share some of ours.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Out of the Ground

Carrots, onions, and garlic from the garden on July 24.  We don't have a good cool storage place for these veggies, so we're just pulling what we need.

This broccoli was so big it didn't even fit in our big soup pot.  How many ways can you make broccoli?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beet and Apple Salad

My friend Theo sent us this great beet salad recipe.  It's pretty and delicious.

The peel of the Granny Smith apples shines through as a bright fluorescent green amongst the various shades of pink and red.  Mother Nature beats Crayola every time!

Beet & Apple Salad

3-4 beets 
2 apples (Granny Smith apples give the most crunch and the green peel looks amazing.)
1 tbsp fresh dill

Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey 
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper as desired
1 tsp caraway seed, crushed (optional) 

Cook beets in boiling, salted water until tender. Peel and dice.
Wash, core and dice apples.  DO NOT peel.
In large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, honey, dill and spices.
Toss with beets and apples.
Serves 4

Theo's Notes: 
The caraway seed is my own addition; I love that German flavour it gives to the beets. This recipe is originally from Foodland Ontario.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Boy oh boy, do we ever have a lot of dill!

Usually, we wash, dry, chop and freeze dill in small tupper ware containers.  When we need some in a recipe, we just shake out what we need.  It works pretty well (never as good as fresh, but way better than the store bought dried stuff).

Since we have so much dill this year, we thought we'd also try drying some to see how well that works.  Here are our bundles temporarily hanging in the back yard.
We moved them into the garage where they'll be protected from the rain, sun and bugs.

We've never dried herbs before.  From what I've read, good air circulation (that's why we made several small bundles, rather than one big one) in a warm, dry location is critical.  Hanging from the rafters of our garage (which rarely sees a car) seems like the ideal location.

Other tips I've read include harvesting the herbs early in the morning and before the herbs flower.  Oops, as you can tell, there are flowers on our dill plants and I'm pretty sure we harvested them in the afternoon.  Oh well, close enough!

I've also read that you're suppose to wrap a paper bag around the herbs (with lots of slits for ventilation) to prevent dust and the sun from getting at the herbs.  But, we don't have paper bags big enough for these dill bundles, so we're going without.

Here are some links to places that sound like they know what they're doing when it comes to drying herbs:

And finally, according to dill is listed in the Gospel of St. Matthew, along with mint and cumin, as suitable payment for taxes. I wonder what the CRA would say about that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Naked Veggie Nuda Salad - Cavena Nuda

Have you heard of Cavena Nuda?  Or naked oats or "Rice of the Prairies"?

Our friend Myrna, who works with new Manitoba foods, recently introduced us to Cavena Nuda in a great Mediterranean Salad featured on the producers' website - Wedge Farm.  We really enjoyed it.

Cavena Nuda, meaning Canadian Naked Oats, is a special hulless, hairless oat grown right here in Manitoba.  It's nutritional prowess is impressive with twice the protein of rice, 10 times the dietary fibre and more cholesterol-lowering beta glucan than is found in regular hulled oats.

It is prepared just like brown rice but, unlike rice, Cavena Nuda stays firm.  It has a mild, nutty flavour and is chewier than brown rice.

I bought a 1.5 kg package at Sobeys for $12.99 and am ready to try it on my own.  With all those fresh garden veggies, I wanted something that would include beans, broccoli and Cavena Nuda.  Here's what I came up with.

Naked Veggie Nuda Salad

(This whole naked thing is too good too pass up! In this recipe, even the veggies are naked - ie raw.)

2 cups Cavena Nuda 
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup broccoli
1/4 cup green beans
1/4 cup yellow beans
1/4 cup purple Beans
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped parsley

Orange Vinaigrette
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic chopped finely
1/2 tbsp grated orange rind
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp chili sauce
salt and pepper

Place Cavena Nuda in a saucepan and cover with water about 2 inches above the oats.
Add salt.
Bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes.
Drain and rinse with cold water.  Remember, it will still be somewhat firm.

Mix cooked, cooled Cavena Nuda, veggies and herbs in a salad bowl.

Mix all vinaigrette ingredients in a screw top jar.
Shake like crazy until all ingredients are well blended.
Pour over oats and veggies.
Let sit for 4 hours or overnight.
Serve and enjoy!

Serves 4

This is the type of recipe that has endless possibilities.  Change up the vinaigrette and the veggies depending on what you have on hand.

Beet Chips

More beets from the garden means more recipes to test out.  This time - homemade beet chips.

We tried two options for beet chips - deep fried or oven roasted.  We did both, just to see which we preferred.
Can you tell which ones are deep fried and which ones are oven roasted?  Neither could we. Even when tasting, it was hard to tell which was which.   (The ones on the right are deep fried.)

We discovered that oven roasting is easier and a little less oily.  We also discovered that we don't really love beet chips.  They're an odd combination of sweet and earthy, which works in soups, salads and side dishes, but not in chips- at least for us.

But it's something you should definitely try out for yourself.  Here's the oven roasted technique we tried.

Oven Roasted Beet Chips
Olive Oil

Wash the beets and scrub off any dirt.
Do NOT peel.
Slice thinly with a mandolin. (Remember, wear an apron or one of your least favourite shirts.)
Toss with olive oil and salt.
Place on baking sheet.
Bake in 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or until crisp.
Watch and turn to ensure they don't burn.

Note: The beets will shrink a lot as they loose their moisture.  Next time, I'll use bigger beets and save my young tender ones for other recipes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Royal Burgundy Bush Beans

Several years ago, our friends introduced us to Royal Burgundy Bush Beans - of course they called them "Magic Beans".   Our friends sent us home with a handful of magic beans telling us to watch carefully as we cooked them. We admired their purple colour and were eager to discover their magic.

We, (oops - I mean the kids of course) were thrilled to see the colour change right before our eyes.  How cool is that!  For an explanation of the science behind the colour change check out this link

We've been hooked on royal burgundy beans ever since.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Let's talk kohlrabi.

I grew up knowing and loving kohlrabi - not surprising for a German immigrant family.  Germans know their kohlrabi!   In fact, the word kohlrabi is German for cabbage (kohl) turnip (rube) - a practical, no-nonsense name, wouldn't you agree?

Kohlrabi is indeed a member of the brassica or cabbage family and, while it grows above ground, its shape and size is very similar to a turnip.  The taste and texture of kohlrabi is somewhat similar to a broccoli stem or a cabbage heart, although much better.  It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Except for being highly attractive for flea beetles, kohlrabi is relatively easy to grow.  The only tricky part is harvesting it before it gets too big.  Once it gets bigger than an apple, it tends to get woody (in a dry year, it will get woody earlier).  And it doesn't take long to mature - about 55-60 days, similar to broccoli.

Flea beetles have wreaked havoc on our kohlrabi for the last few years.  They were at it again this year, until we installed our floating row cover (a very worthwhile investment).

Here are some photos of our kohlrabi - from planting to eating.

We planted our cabbage patch on the May long weekend.

The flea beetle attack began in early June.

By June 7 the leaves were completely stripped, I thought our kohlrabi days were over.

On June 25 we installed a floating row cover over our entire cabbage patch.

The leaves came back and our kohlrabi was saved!

On July 16 we harvested our first kohlrabi and prepared my favourite kohlrabi dish - kohlrabi in creamy dill sauce.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

More Veggies

Harvesting vegetables makes me happy!  It never ceases to amaze me how a few tiny seeds, dirt, water, and sun can produce all of this.  Seriously, it is a wonderful thing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Growing Butterflies

Aidan's bike screeches to an abrupt halt and drops to the ground in a flash.  The lure of a patch of milkweed was too much for this young nature enthusiast.  Within seconds he finds one, then two, then three, then 10 to 20 monarch caterpillars.  Our boy is in heaven.

He begs to take one home.

Visions of a caterpillar, a glass jar and the sun cause us to hesitate.  Finally, a bargain is struck "You can come back and collect a caterpillar if you... research how to raise a monarch butterfly, build a proper enclosure, commit to the entire process."

Within two hours, Aidan has done his research on the internet, has built a suitable enclosure out of K'nex and has prepared a spot in his room to house the caterpillars.  He is committed.

Later that evening, he brings home 5 monarch caterpillars and a bunch of milkweed leaves.  Our butterfly adventure has begun.

I must admit, I wasn't thrilled about having 5 caterpillars in our house, especially after reading how much they poop!  It's a good thing monarch caterpillars are fairly attractive - as far as creepy crawly things go.

Watching the caterpillars turn into beautiful green chrysalises was absolutely fascinating.  They truly are  breathtaking.

If that wasn't enough to win me over, the final transformation from chrysalis to butterfly certainly did it.  Wow, what an amazing process.  Monarchs are so beautiful.

Even better was watching how interested, excited and fascinated the kids were in the whole process.  When they released each butterfly, it was evident that they knew they were part of something special.  If I thought vegetable gardening built a connection to Mother Nature, growing butterflies is even more powerful at doing so.

Yesterday, we released the last of our 5 butterflies - Little Bob.  Yes, of course, they all had names (Jeff, Hi, Fred, Big Bob and Little Bob).

But our butterfly adventures have not come to an end.  We have adopted 2 more caterpillars (Rainbow White and Bob the Awesome One) after another walk along the river.  And, yesterday, after a visit to Sage Gardens, we came home with milkweed, delphiniums and astilbe to plant our very own butterfly garden in our back yard.

What have we done!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mystery Solved!

We know what it is!  It's Phacelia Tanacetifolia.  For those of us who don't speak Latin, it's also called Bee's Friend, Lacy Phacelia, or Purple Tansy.

Native to western North America, it is an annual that self seeds easily (we knew that!). It is a rich source of nectar which explains all the bees we've seen around this plant and why it's called "Bee's Friend".  

It's primary function in the garden, besides looking pretty, is to attract pollinators.  It can also be used as green manure.  Green manure crops improve soil conditions by preventing erosion, minimizing weeds, reducing soil compaction and fixing nitrogen from the air into the ground.  In some places it is used as a wintering ground cover that is then turned under while still green.  It decomposes within four weeks and enriches the soil prior to planting.

We stumbled across a picture in Carolyn Herriot's "The Zero-Mile Diet - A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food".  

Thanks to Nana for sending us this book and helping us solve our mystery!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Basket full of Garden Goodies

After four days away, here's what we pulled out of the garden today - beets, zucchini, carrots, peas, beans, broccoli.  So fresh and delicious!

Now the hard part is deciding what to make with all these yummy veggies.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Manitoba Strawberries

It's strawberry time!

We may not grow them ourselves, but we love picking Manitoba strawberries.   We picked five baskets and had a great time exploring Boonstra Farm.
Gotta love that toothless smile!

And, here's why we chose Boonstra Farms.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


We love carrots.  Sadly, we have not had a lot of luck with carrots in the past.  We always managed to get a few, but never enough to freeze or store throughout the fall.

Luckily, this year, the carrot gods have been good to us.   Here are our two main carrot patches.

The first plot was planted as a big patch on May 16 (see carrot patch) according to the advice of Ed, our gardening neighbour.  I think Ed is on to something!  The second plot was planted as three rows on May 20, hours before a major rainfall that lasted four days.  Notice how the carrots are in the valleys instead of on top of the rows where they were sown.

We've thinned the carrots a little bit, but it's heartbreaking to pull those poor little guys.  We plan to thin them even more when they get a little bigger and we can actually eat what we pull.  As long as the ground stays soft enough that we can pull them, rather than having to dig them, our plan should work.

One thing's for sure, we're going to have some carrots this year!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fresh Garden Beets

Natural Red Ace Beets
Up until last summer, we did not eat beets.  The thought of planting beets never entered our minds. Then, my kids got a variety pack of seeds.  Lo and behold up came some beets.  A perfect opportunity to try them again.

After much advice from friends regarding the best cooking techniques, we had beets for supper one night.  They were delicious!

So this year, we planted beets on purpose and last night we had our first beets.  Not wanting to spoil our luck, we used the same technique as last year.  Here it is.

Fresh Buttery Beets
NOTE:  Beets bleed a lot - do not wear your favourite white shirt when cooking with beets!
  • Wash and trim the beets. (I learned that beets will bleed even more if you cut the root tip and the greens off completely before boiling.  So, leave a bit of the stems and the root in tact.)
  • Place beets in a pot and cover completely with water.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes (more or less depending on size and desired firmness).  This step is intended to soften the beets and to make peeling the beets easy.  We like our beets a little on the firm side.
  • Take beets out of boiling water and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Cut off the roots and remaining stems.
  • Peel the beets.
  • Slice into thin slices.
  • Place in frying pan with butter. (Oh Yeah!)
  • Heat through.
  • Enjoy!
We found that fresh, young, tender beets don't require any salt or sugar - even the kids thought they were perfect just the way they are - well, with butter of course.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A picture update July 5

A mixture of rain and heat has led to some incredible growth in the garden this past week.  Our garden has never looked this full.  It's either the weather, the compost manure from last fall or a combination of both.

We have never kept track, so we're not sure, but it seems like everything is much earlier than in past years.  For future comparisons, here's a picture update of the garden on July 5, 2010.

Several beets were perfect for last night's supper.

The peas are well on their way and will be ready by mid week.  I suspect they'll be gobbled up before we even leave the garden.

The beans - green, yellow, purple and scarlett runners are all in full bloom and will be ready soon.

The first of what we suspect will be a gazillion zucchinis is on its way.

The broccoli has made a full recovery underneath the floating row cover and is forming nicely.

Even the kohlrabi plants that were stripped of their leaves by flea beetles have recovered. 

Our yellow peppers are huge.

The corn looks promising.

Even our mystery plant is doing well.  We still don't know what it is, but the bees and butterflies love it.