Friday, April 29, 2011

When to Plant the Garden?

When should you plant your garden?

This is a question on everyone's mind at this time of year, and there are as many opinions on this topic as there are gardeners.  Everyone ultimately makes their own decision based on the various bits and pieces of information they collect.

Here are a few resources that might help you make your decision about when to plant your garden.  If you just want a simple list, check out the When to Plant Chart I created this spring.

The Soil Temperature Approach
Here's a handy soil temperature guide for various vegetable crops from the Weekend Gardener.
To use this approach consider purchasing a soil thermometer ($9.50 at Lee Valley).

Soil Temperature Guidelines for Vegetable Crops
Crops that will germinate in the coolest soils, down to 4° C arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, bok choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radish and spinach seed
Crops that will germinate with a soil temperature above 10° Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips
Crops that will germinate with a soil temperature at or above 16° Cbeans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower.

NOTE: Beans will not tolerate any frost and may have to be planted again if the temperature goes below freezing
Crops that will germinate with a soil temperature above 21° Ctomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and melons.

NOTE: Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are slow-growing and take many weeks to grow to the stage where you can plant them out in the garden, so you might want to purchase these seedlings from your local garden center. On the other hand, squash, cucumbers and corn grow quickly and are easier to start from seed

The Soil Clumping Approach
Here's some advice from The Old Farmer's Almanac about testing the soil with your hands.
  • Grab a handful of your garden soil. If you can form it into a ball, the soil is too wet for planting. (Chances are the seeds will rot.) If it crumbles through your fingers, it's ready for planting.
  • Here's another soil test. Make a ball of soil and drop it. If the ball crumbles, your garden is ready for seeds. If it holds its shape or breaks into two clumps, it's still too wet for planting.
  • You can also step into the garden and then step back and look at the footprint you've left in the soil. If it's shiny, then there's too much water near the soil's surface to dig and plant. If it's dull, then excess water has drained away and it's time to plant.
  • Old farmers had an even easier guideline: When the weeds start to grow in your garden, it's time to plant your hardy vegetables
The Calendar Approach
You've probably heard a lot about this method which is based on your planting zone and the average first frost fee day.  In Winnipeg, Zone 2b, our average first frost free day is May 24 - which is why many gardeners wait to plant their garden until May long weekend.  But, even if you follow the calendar approach, there are some veggies you can plant before the first frost free day.  Here's a list I created last year in a post on May 1, 2010:

Cold Weather Crops 
- plant outdoors 4 weeks before last frost ( in Winnipeg - April 26)
swiss chard

Cool Weather Crops 
- plant outdoors 2 weeks before last frost (in Winnipeg - May 12)

Warm Weather Crops 
- plant after the last frost when soil is warm (in Winnipeg - May 24)


The Phenology Approach
This approach is interesting and requires a keen sense of observation.  Basically, it's using cues from nature to identify when to plant certain things.  For example, here's a list from About.comGardening :

Plant peas
When forsythia & daffodils blooms
Plant potatoes
When 1st dandelion blooms
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinach
When lilac is in first leaf
Plant beans, cucs and squash
When lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoes
When lily-of-the-valley are in full bloom
Transplant eggplant, melon and peppers
When irises bloom
Plant corn
When apple blossoms start to fall

The Mom Approach
Of course we can't forget the old "my mom said so" approach.  It's only natural that we take into consideration what our foremothers did before us.  So, if mom always seeded carrots on May 15 and she always had a bumper crop - well, there must be something to it.  Why mess with success.

Whatever approach you choose, I have found keeping a log (or a blog) is very beneficial.  It's great to go back and see what worked and what didn't and then go from there.

Good luck!    

Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's time!

It's time to check on the garden and see what's going on.  

The quack grass and dandelions are already up!

A wee little spinach seedling.

The garlic from last fall is popping up.
Our teepee/bean trellis sprouted this afternoon too!
 Soon we'll be digging up a storm and seeding some of our cool weather favourites.

Meanwhile, up at the house, things are progressing as well. The spinach in the outdoor planter next to the house is coming up.  If you look really close, you can see at least two little sprouts just coming out of the dirt. 

The leek seedlings are about 4-6 inches high.  I've set them outside to harden them off a little bit. They need to get used to life on the outside where there is sun, wind, and major temperature fluctuations.  A slow gentle introduction is ideal.  By next week they should be ready for the garden.  

Whoo Hoo!  It's gardening time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First Salad of 2011

Look what we had for dinner last night!  The first BBQ dinner outside on the patio deserved a special treat.  A  salad of home grown lettuce and spicy mesclun mix with a vinaigrette was perfect.

Gently picking the outer leaves off the little lettuce plants.
Aerial view of the spicy mesclun mix - after picking a few leaves for the salad.
I've become a big fan of oil and vinegar dressings or should I say vinaigrettes.  They can be as simple or complex as you'd like.  They can be sweet and fruity or tangy and savoury.  And best of all, they don't require a recipe!  Use your imagination and follow a few simple principles and you're good to go.
Tid Bits I've Learned about Vinaigrettes

  • Stick to a 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar ratio.  No matter what type of oil, what type of vinegar or what other ingredients you add, this ratio is the magic formula for great vinaigrettes.
  • Try mixing different oils with different vinegars.  
  • Don't get stuck on using only Extra Virgin Olive Oil, sure it's good but why not try canola oil, flax oil, hemp oil, walnut oil, etc.  In fact, try mixing a couple of different varieties together.  For example in the salad above I mixed canola oil with hemp oil.
  • Try using different flavours of vinegar.  In our cupboard right now we have red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar and white vinegar.  I choose the type of vinegar based the final flavour I'm looking for and on the colour.  For example a nice balsamic vinegar gives a nice sweetness to a spinach and strawberry salad, but that dark colour might not work for a salad with cauliflower or other whites.
  • Use a little lemon juice, lime juice or orange juice to substitute for part of the vinegar.  
  • Keeping the oil and vinegar from separating is tricky - the two really don't like each other.  Keep whisking, blending or shaking until the very last moment before serving.  Adding a little mustard or honey will also help keep the emulsion from separating too quickly.
  • Honey adds a little sweetness, cuts the acid from the vinegar and helps keep the oil and vinegar emulsion together a little longer.
  • Add fresh or dried herbs like thyme, oregano, parsely, chives, cilantro, basil, etc. to your vinaigrette for even more variety.  Some crushed garlic is also a nice addition in hearty salads.
  • For sweet vinaigrettes I like adding a bit of homemade jams or jellies.  I like the flavour and colour it provides, especially in a salad with fruit.
  • A little salt and freshly ground pepper are part of every vinaigrette I make. 
  • The best way to test your vinaigrette is by dipping a piece of lettuce in your mix, rather than tasting it straight off a spoon.

So, no recipe for you!  Go ahead and experiment.  If it doesn't work, you can always try again tomorrow, cause you know your going to be eating a lot of lettuce in the next month or so!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Best Friends and Family in the World

FYI, I have the best friends and family in the world!

My husband, my kids, my friends, my extended family and my community are my raison d'ĂȘtre.  They inspire me and make it possible for me to experiment with new and interesting ideas.  They've always been very encouraging and supportive,  and luckily for me, they've also been great sports about being active participants in these ventures. They've attended presentations,  they've cleaned underpasses, they've gathered household recyclables and made flowers out of them, they've swapped jam jars and recipes, they've picked apples and rhubarb over and over again,  they've read my blogs, they've tasted my new concoctions, they supported my Habitat Build in Guatemala, they bought and sold veggies to raise funds for our school, they've gone skiing and roasted marshmallows at -27, they've dressed up in '80s costumers, they've listened to my woes and have celebrated my highs.  They have been the best.

And then, just when I think they've done it all, they nominate me for two awards.  One was for Winnipeg Women Magazine's, Most Beautiful Women and the other one was for the Reh-Fit Centre's Healthy Living Awards. Seriously, how lucky am I to have friends like that?

In March Trudy, Ian, Darryl and I attended the Beautiful Women Award dinner. I was touched to have been nominated and was very happy to cheer on the five deserving and absolutely amazing finalists.

Last Thursday, Randi, Kelly, Darryl and I attended the Reh-Fit Foundation's Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony.   I was surprised, honoured and very delighted to be one of two award winners for the individual category.  The award was to celebrate role models that are making outstanding contributions as leaders of fit and healthy lifestyles.  While I was the one whose name was called and who got to hold the award, it really is for all of my friends and family and all the community volunteers who turn my ideas and crazy schemes into reality.

Randi nominated me for my role in starting up Fruit Share, sharing gardening tips and recipes through this blog, my role as President of the Manitoba Association of Home Economists, and my participation in launching the Farm to School Healthy Choice Fundraiser.

I feel so touched, thankful and honoured by having such great friends.  Thank you to you all.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Garden Craft - Aluminum Can Plant Markers

Still not gardening.  Time for a garden craft instead, something that is useful, attractive and made from recycled material - aluminum can plant markers.
I recently bought this gorgeous Rosemary plant at Sage Garden (one of my favourite places).  It's in our dining room right now, but it will find a home outside this summer.  The sign is made from a recycled pop can.

Here's how...
  • Wash out a used soda can.
  • Use a utility knife to cut off the top and bottom of the can.
  • Flatten the roll of aluminum you have left by rolling it the opposite way of the natural roll.
  • Once it's flat, cut out whatever shape you prefer.
  • Use a ball point pen to write the name of the plant on the shiny aluminum side - push hard.
  • Turn it over and trace the lines of the word to make it pop out on the shiny side - push hard.
  • You may have to trace the lines several times to get the desired effect.
  • You could also engrave instead of embossing by reversing the process (start on the side of the can with writing (remember to write backwards/mirror style so the word comes out correctly on the viewing side)).
  • Add whatever designs you'd like.  My son thought the dots around the outside added a finishing touch.
  • Punch a hole in the top.
  • For the hanger, cut up a wire coat hanger to the desired length.  
  • At one end make an S hook.
  • Hang the sign on the S hook, bend so the sign won't slide off.
  • Voila - you have a beautiful plant marker.

I didn't cut myself once!  It's really not as bad as you might think.

We also made a ton of plant markers out of white plastic containers.  It's super easy, as shown in the picture below, just mark and cut.
These are great for marking all those seedlings in my basement.  A Sharpie works great. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Planning the Garden

How are your garden plans coming along?

We have our drawing, our seed list and now, we have a one-stop planting chart specifically for our Zone2b garden - Veggie Delight Planting Chart.

We are not expert gardeners by any stretch of the imagination.  Every year, I have to try to figure out which veggies can tolerate frost and which ones don't so I know the earliest time possible to get them in the ground (impatient?- maybe, eager? - definitely!).   And, now that we're starting to save some of our own seed, I can't just follow the instructions on a seed pack - I need to look up seeding instructions.  I also needed to figure out what to start indoors and when.  So, based on the various sources that I usually get my info from, I decided to develop our very own planting chart for the veggies that we grow here in Winnipeg.
The chart is definitely geared towards the early gardener and pushes the limit of when you can plant/seed things in the garden - so be ware!!  But, that's exactly what I wanted to know - when is the earliest I can plant veggies.  It also gives info about spacing, depth, maturity, when to start indoors, and any other special info about a particular plant.

My goal is to add columns that show when I actually plant and harvest my veggies and anything particular that I want to note about a plant variety.  Ideally, over time, this should become a pretty handy reference - if I actually jot things down.

Would you find a chart like this useful?  Do you have plant varieties you'd like to add?

I thought it might be neat to make this chart available as a Google Doc that anyone with internet access can use and add information to.  Will it work?  Will fellow Manitoba gardeners add to the list?  Or, will someone sabotage the list and have us planting sugar cane in April?  There's only one way to find out.

Here's the chart.  Veggie Delight Planting Chart

Hope it's helpful and that you'll consider adding to it.

In case this version of the chart does get a little wonky, an original picture version can be viewed in the Plant Chart tab at the top of this blog.

Snow in April

Today is April 16.  There is an inch of new snow on the ground.  It's beautiful, but it's April 16!

The only gardening today will be on paper and in our basement greenhouse.  Actually, I must confess, the novelty of our "basement greenhouse" is starting to wear off.  More and more it's starting to look like an unfinished bathroom with concrete walls and a couple of light fixtures hanging over a table.  I need a dose of real gardening, real soon!

On the bright side (a much preferred way of looking at things), I think we might have a special treat for Easter Dinner!  I think we'll get just enough of our Spicy Mesclun Mix to toss in with some other greens to make  a special salad.
Spicy Mesclun Mix on April 13

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Cupboards are Bare

Yikes!  We have hardly anything left of last year's fruit and veggie harvest. 


It's a good thing Fruit Share (a volunteer group for harvesting, sharing and enjoying other people's fruit) is gearing up for another season and the seedlings seem to be doing OK in the basement.

I've also been following this great blog called Well Preserved.  They have amazing ideas for preserving all kinds of things.  The limited number of our preserves, has me contemplating a batch of Carrot Cake Jam.  I'm not kidding, check it out Carrot Cake Jam.

But don't get me wrong, in a way I'm glad the cupboards will be empty for a little while.  It will make the new batches all the more tantalizing.  And, I was never a big fan of going to the root cellar back on the farm and seeing canned goods from several years past.  My mom grew up during the war, so she always made enough canned food to last us for years just in case the entire North American economy collapsed.  Quality, taste and spoilage were risks she was willing to take.  I am much more of an optimist and preserve food for pleasure, flavour and the ability to choose the ingredients I want in my food.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Loaf

It's April 13, it's -9 degrees Celcius and the river is threatening to flood the garden plot.  At times like these, there's only one thing to do - bake!

Last summer, when zucchini was in such abundance, we grated and froze some of it for our favourite loaf -  Chocolate Chip Zucchini Loaf.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Loaf - Recipe
1 3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
Add grated zucchini to the wet, then mix with the dry.
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple sauce or apple butter
1/3 canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups packed, grated zucchini
(if using frozen zucchini, let it drain for bit first)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans.
mmm, choco chips!
In a large bowl, combine first 7 ingredients (flour to salt).
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs.
Mix in sugar, apple sauce, oil and vanilla.
Add grated zucchini.
Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients.
Stir just til moistened.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Pour into pans.
Bake 50 minutes.
Cool in pans for 5 minutes then cool on a wire rack.


P.S.  If you accidently turn the oven off when you're trying to set the timer and only discover you have done so 47 minutes later, you can turn the oven back on and try again for another 30-40 minutes!  The loaf may not rise as much or be as moist - but it will be OK and still taste delicious.  Guess how I know this to be true?! :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Edible Front Yard Landscaping

Those are not mysterious, alien crop circles you're seeing on our front lawn.  They're my attempt at laying out  plans for our new edible front yard.  The sticks represent apples, cherries and haskaps (honeyberries).  The circles represent the areas around the trees that will be home to various other edibles like herbs, edible flowers and vegetables.

I have been trying to figure out how to transform our backyard with fruit for years, but between the patio, the kids' play structure and the need to be able to spread out a picnic blanket now and then, there's not much room.  And the thought of using the front yard never really dawned on me - it's just not done!  And then, there's the fact that it's a north facing yard with some big elms close by.  But lately, due to some unfortunate tree mishaps (no, I didn't sabotage them), there is more and more light out front.  So, I figured this is the year to transform our empty, front lawn into an edible paradise.  Ok, paradise may be overstating it a bit, but you know what I mean.

It's been a challenging and interesting process - like solving a puzzle.  I've been pouring over catalogs and websites to plan what to grow and how to arrange it all so that the space also looks attractive.  I've enjoyed drawing numerous plans on graph paper and have finally got something to go from.

The circles represent what I laid out on the front lawn, the other shapes are other herb/veggie plots I was thinking of adding as well. The space around the plots would be covered in natural tree mulch, leaving just a bit of grass on the one side.  The other side of the front walkway is too shady for fruits and veggies - but some day I'll work on that side.  

Now that I can compare my winter drawings to my actual front yard, I see some changes that I have to make.  

Back to the drawing board. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ground Cherries

My kids have inspired me to try new things in the garden.  When they're deciding what to plant in their plot, they choose based on looks, taste, interest and uniqueness.  They're not bound to traditional crops and planting what's recommended or what anyone else thinks you should plant in the garden.

Their experimenting led me to discover that we actually like beets, that we can grow celery in our garden, that Stevia is very sweet and that it's OK to just have 3 potato plants (versus a huge plot to ensure you have enough potatoes to last all winter).

So, this year, I'm experimenting with ground cherries.  I first discovered these tasty little gems as a garnish on a dessert plate at some fancy gala dinner.   This spring, I discovered them in a seed catalog.  I found out they're an heirloom plant, a relative of tomatoes and relatively easy to plant in Manitoba.

This gorgeous picture is from Confections of a Sweet Tooth.  Steph has some recipes for ground cherries (she calls them Cape Gooseberries) that I'm looking forward to trying this summer.

I bought a pack of Aunt Molly's Heirloom Ground Cherry from Heritage Harvest Seeds.  Here's what they say about it:
"An old Polish heirloom that has a pineapple citrus like flavor. When the fruit are ripe they drop to the ground and are enclosed in a papery husk like tomatillos are. The fruit can store for up to a month in there husks and can be used for pies, preserves or fruit salads."

As for growing tips, here's what I've managed to find out:

Start Indoors: about 10 weeks before you plan to transplant them outdoors 
Germination Time: 10-12 days
Days to Maturity: 70
Depth of seed: 1/4"
Plant spacing: 24-36"
Mature Plant Size: 18" high, 24" wide

Other tips:
  • a warm season crop, so don't put outside until all danger of frost is gone
  • treat like tomato or pepper plants 
  • do not need staking
  • prefers full sun and can't tolerate frost
  • prolific, sprawling plant - a plant may produce up to 300 cherries
  • mature fruit drops to ground in papery husk
  • fruit stores well for up to 4 weeks
  • do not eat green/unripened cherries as they contain solanin, the same thing in green potatoes
  • self seeds
  • putting a black weed barrier around the base of the plant makes collecting dropped, ripe fruit easier and keeps it cleaner
  • can be grown in a container

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seedlings in April

Check out the sprouts all planted on March 27.

Leeks April 10

Love the way the seed pods are clinging to the tops of these leeks.

Spicy Mesclun Mix April 10
Oops, do you think I was a little heavy handed with the seeds?  Chances of transplanting these successfully into the garden - very low.  Chances of cutting them directly into a salad bowl - very high!

Lollo Rossa Lettuce April 10
Slowly but surely these guys are coming up.  These, I might actually be able to transplant.