Friday, May 27, 2011

Rhubarb Wanted

We have over 60 volunteers at Fruit Share who are eager and ready to rescue any unused/unwanted fruit growing in Winnipeg yards.  Of course, rhubarb is our target fruit right now.  If you have extra or see a patch that isn't being used by your friends or neighbours, please email us at  We'll pick it and share it three ways - 1/3 to the homeowner, 1/3 to the volunteers and 1/3 to a food charity.

If you have just enough for your family, I'd love to get and post your favourite rhubarb recipe.  If you'd like to try something new, check out some of the rhubarb recipes already listed on the Fruit Share blog under Recipes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A look at the Forecast

Here's the forecast for the next few days.  What do you see? 

Let me be more specific, besides a rainy weekend, what do you see as a gardener?

I see a window of opportunity for us gardeners.
  • There are no frost warnings in sight! If you haven't done so, it looks like a good time to plant our tender tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and squash. 
  • I see that someone else is going to do the watering.  If I can, I'll plant as much as I can before the rain so that Mother Nature will do the watering instead of me. She does a much better job of watering the garden than I can ever hope to do with my watering can.  
  • I also know that after the rain, I'll have to wait a couple of days before I can walk through the garden without collecting an inch of soil on my shoes.  How much longer do I want to delay my planting?
  • I see high temperatures ahead.  Seeds and young transplants love moisture followed by a good warm spell. 
This forecast looks great for us gardeners.  Looks like it's time to turn off the computer and head down to the garden!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dandelion Root Zucchini Cake

They liked it!  They really, really liked it.  And, they didn't suspect a thing. 

Darryl and the kids dug in to the Dandelion root zucchini cake with as much enthusiasm and pleasure as they would our regular chocolate zucchini cake. And, no one mentioned the lighter colour or tasting anything different.   

dandelion root zucchini cake

Dandelion Root Zucchini Cake
1 ½ cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup dandelion root powder (or cocoa powder)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp salt
3 eggs
1 ¼ cup sugar
½ cup apple sauce
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups packed, grated zucchini
½ cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 3500.
Grease 2 8x4 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla.
Stir in zucchini to wet mixture.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
Stir just until moistened.
Add chocolate chips.
Pour into pans.
Bake for 50 minutes.
Cool in pans for 5 minutes then cool on wire rack.

Yield: 2 loaves

regular chocolate zucchini cake

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


When I got to the garden last Monday to start prep work for seeding, I discovered a bumper crop of dandelions. Having just returned from my "Wild Edible Adventure" where I learned all about harvesting dandelions, I decided to experiment and judge whether or not dandelions could ever be more than a nuisance to us.
10 dandelions per 2 square feet = a lot of dandelions
First, here's a little dandelion trivia for you to consider:
  • Every part of the dandelion is edible - roots, leaves, buds, flowers (you could probably even eat the fluffy stuff)
  • Dandelions are a low calorie, nutrient rich food that outperforms regular lettuce in all the major nutrients. Here's a listing for 1 cup of raw dandelion greens from the USDA. Nutritive Value of Dandelions
  • Dandelion greens are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K
  • People use different parts of dandelions for all sorts of herbal and medicinal uses.
And, some other interesting links with information about dandelions:
  • Saskatchewan Agriculture has information about growing dandelion crops for cash.
  • Ford Motor Company is looking at dandelions for a rubber alternative.
  • The New York Times has a recipe for dandelion jelly.
  • The Food Network has a recipe by Christine Cushing for dandelion salad.  Christine's commentary includes   "Dandelion greens are available at most supermarkets from early spring until winter. If you can't find them..."  I'm sure we could spare a few for Christine's readers if they can't find them!

There certainly is a lot of evidence to support that there are some benefits to dandelions, but is the flavour and the effort to harvest them worth it?

Dandelion leaves
If you like arugula, you'll probably like tender, young dandelion leaves used in a salad.  I find them bitter and would only use a few mixed in with regular lettuce for a hint of spiciness.  The leaves are easy to harvest and there are certainly a lot of them around!

Dandelion buds (the tightly closed buds that haven't blossomed yet)
We boiled them to take out some of the bitterness and then fried them in butter and added a little pepper.  These were OK, but I didn't see anyone go for a second helping!  If you don't like brussel sprouts, you probably wouldn't like these either.  Easy to harvest and prepare.

Dandelion Flowers
Definitely a tasty little treat that I would make again. Deep fried dandelion flowers in a whole wheat flour and ground flax seed batter.  Delicious!  Easy to harvest and prepare.

Dandelion Roots
These take a little more effort to prepare.  When I discovered all those dandelions in our garden plot, I knew it would be the perfect time to harvest the roots.  Here's how: 
Dig the roots, wash them, scrub and wash them again, cut them into 1/2 inch pieces, roast them for 2-3 hours at 250 degrees and then put them into a blender.  Put through a sieve to separate the larger pieces from the fine powder.  Use the larger pieces for dandelion coffee and the fine powder as a cocoa substitute in baking.

Probably could have let them get a little darker.

Dandelion Coffee/Tea
I used the coarse, roasted dandelion roots to make a dandelion coffee, apparently this beverage is enjoyed around the world by people not addicted to caffeine!

Add 1 tbsp of dandelion root to 1 cup of boiling water.  Boil for 2 minutes and simmer for 20 minutes.

Pour into your favourite mug and add cream or sugar like you would with your  coffee.
The verdict:  Well, I didn't cough and sputter like I did when I had my first cup of "real" coffee.  It is a little bitter, but not nearly as bitter as coffee.  I'm sure I could acquire a taste for it, but it sure is a lot of work!

Dandelion Cake
I've just whipped up a batch of our favourite chocolate zucchini cake.  The kids and Darryl are out of the house and don't know that I've substituted dandelion root powder for the cocoa.  Will they taste the difference?  Stay tuned to tomorrow's blog post to find out.  If they like it, I'll post the recipe.  

I still haven't tried dandelion jelly or dandelion wine, but WolfSong, a veggiedelight follower, seems to enjoy it.  Perhaps she'll share her family recipe with us.

After all this experimenting, would I recommend dandelions to anyone?  Yes, I certainly recommend trying them, it's fun to experiment and to learn more about the plants around you.  If nothing else, it's certainly a conversation piece.  Will dandelions be a regular menu item in the Stewart household?  I think they'll probably make an annual appearance to mark the arrival of spring, but I doubt they'll become a staple.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Winter Dreams, Spring Realities

All winter long I dreamed and schemed about our front yard edible landscape.  A grand plan, indeed.

In April, I shared my ideas and drawings in a blog post on our Edible Front Yard Plan.

Finally, last weekend we got digging!

But, rather than digging up the huge chunk of lawn that I imagined in my wintertime musings, the reality of time, money and muscle pain hit home, and we decided that this year, we would limit our efforts to three key tree guilds.
While I dug three, 5 foot wide holes, Darryl transplanted the sod to cover some bare patches in the backyard.

In order to give our trees the best start possible and to allow room for some other edibles around the trees, I  purposefully dug deeper and wider than what was needed.  After digging deep and removing some of the clay soil, we added 4 way mix, compost, corn gluten (for nitrogen) and some acid plant mix powder back into the hole.  We mixed it up really well and then dug a new hole for the trees.  We poured water in the bottom of the hole, held the tree in place and added the new soil mix all around.  We were careful to plant the tree at the same height as it was in it's container.  We also raised the whole bed about 5 inches above the rest of the lawn.
Over digging the holes, caused a few smiles and comments from passer-bys.
Our three groupings include:

Guild 1
Johnny Jump-Ups (edible flowers)
Beets (Bull's Blood and Lutz Green Leaf)
Broad Beans (Crimson Flowered)
Crimson Passion Cherry 
- a sweet, sour cherry from the University of Saskatchewan's Romance Series (Prairie Plant Systems has a great reference chart comparing dwarf sour cherries
- grows 4-6 feet with fruit 3-4 cm
one of the sweetest, sour

After a very long day, our three trees are in.
Dexter Jackson apple
Guild 2 (center of picture)
Romain Lettuce
Swiss Chard (Five Colour Silverbeet)
Climbing Nasturtium (edible flowers)
Dwarf Dexter Jackson Apple Tree
- one of the smallest dwarf apple trees available - 6-8 ft
- good eating and storage apples 8 cm average size
- red apple with yellow streaks
- harvest in mid August

Guild 3 (not fully planted yet)
Prairie Sensation apple
Tri-coloured Sage
Climbing Nasturtium (edible flowers)
Dwarf Prairie Sensation Apple Tree
- a dwarf apple trees 8 ft
- good eating and storage apples 7- 8 cm average size
- red wash with 50% green stripes
- harvest in mid September

Not quite like the original plan, but definitely something we can manage and enjoy.  After all, there's always next year!
After a few days, we finally got up the courage to prune our new apple trees.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21 - Happy May Long Weekend

The moment many gardeners have been waiting for - the May Long Weekend.  Here in Manitoba, it's gardening time!!!

Sadly, it's raining.  It's too wet to work in the garden, but not too wet to head to the garden store and buy whatever plants and supplies you're going to need once things dry up.

We were lucky to get a few more seeds and plants in the ground yesterday before the rain.

It was good to have the kids in the garden with me again.  Although I don't get much done when they're there, I enjoy their enthusiasm and unique perspective.  Melanie got to bring her friend Rebekkah which made it even more fun.

Famous lines for the day:

Aidan - "I think I'm going to garden like Dad this year."   This was his way of gently letting me know that his interest is waning and I'll only see glimpses of him in the garden this summer.  Sigh. I don't want to force him, I think he'll have more love for gardening if he gets to control his participation.  Maybe the key is getting his Dad more involved.

Melanie - "I want to plant flowers in the shape of an M and Rebekkah can plant flowers in the shape of an R." Melanie is a creative, outgoing spirit.  Gardening with friends and creating unique designs will capture her attention.

Melanie and Rebekkah planted flowers in an M and an R shape and some celery.  I think there were a few extra seeds which accidently fell out of the package, we'll see what happens.

Aidan planted a couple of rows of carrots and then decided to give me the rest of his patch to plant beets and ground cherries.

We also planted some Golden Nugget squash, zucchini, borage, corn flowers, bee's friend (flower), marigolds and our first patch of corn.

So far in the garden we have: garlic, leeks, onions, carrots, corn, zucchini, squash, peas, beets, celery, strawberries, ground cherries.

There's still plenty of time to get everything else in over the next 2-3 weeks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How We Plant Leeks

Our baby leeks are all grown up and ready to go out into the big garden!

separating the root mass
Last year in May, I described the trench method for planting leeks.  See here Leeks in trench.

This year, I just used the dandelion forky thing to poke holes in the ground (use anything that can poke deep round holes into the ground).  You might even use a dibber - the official garden tool for such a task.

Make a deep hole (4-6 inches) and move the tool around so that there's a nickle sized hole.  Place one of the leek seedlings (also called plugs) into the hole.  Space 6 to 8 inches apart.  That seems like a lot while they're small, but they'll fill that space in nicely as they grow and it allows you to keep hilling soil around them throughout the summer.

Now, you have two options.  You can leave the hole uncovered and water the leeks so that the soil around them gradually fills in the hole every time you water.  This helps to keep the soil fairly loose around the plant and covers the plant with more and more soil.  By planting them deep in the first place, you ensure that you'll blanch the leeks and end up with large amounts of the tasty white part.

Or, you can loosely cover the hole and then water the seedlings.  Throughout the summer you can add more and more soil around the plants to ensure the leeks are blanched.

Unless you want leeks the size of chives, you really must separate each individual leek from the overgrown bundle of roots in the container.  If you can't gently pull them apart, rinse the whole bundle in a bucket of water to help separate them.  I find that this is the most finicky part of planting leeks.
Separating each leek from the root ball
Day 2 - in water to make separating easier, using old butter knife to make holes
Leeky holes!
Good luck with your leeks!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How We Plant Carrots

Beautiful, delicious carrots.  If we had to choose our favourite veggie, we'd probably vote for carrots. There is nothing like pulling out a fresh carrot, wiping the soil on your pants and crunching away.
Last year, we had an amazing crop of carrots, but the years before that were a little sparse.  So, we're trying to replicate what we did last year.  

Carrots are a cool weather crop, so it's fine to plant them before the May long weekend (our first average frost free day).  They take about 10-14 days to germinate, which seems really long compared to peas, beans or lettuce.  They need even soil moisture (damp not puddling) throughout germination and the early growing stage.  They also prefer lighter soil so the roots can grow long and straight.

Knowing this little bit of carrot trivia, here's how we plant carrots.

Because the soil down by the river is such heavy clay, we add as much compost and top soil as we can to give those roots some nice soft soil to grow in.  We made a long 2 foot wide bed of compost and 4 way soil mix.  The bed is slightly raised (1 to 2 inches) from the surrounding area.  Once we had the bed where we wanted it, we sprinkled the carrot seed on top of the bed.  Carrot seed is fairly small, so spacing them according to what the package says can be tricky.  I've heard that mixing it with sand may help.  We just pinched a few seeds in our fingers and sprinkled away.  We'll definitely have to thin them out later.  Instead of planting in single rows, we planted a 2 foot wide by 12 foot long bed.
Adding compost from home.
After seeding, we covered the seeds with a light layer of compost.  Then we watered the bed and covered the whole thing with a light layer of straw/hay.  The straw should help keep the bed moist, as long as we keep watering it, that is.
Covering the seed with  a light layer of compost.
Covering with a layer of straw/hay to keep in moisture.
We planted three varieties (from south to north):

  • Scarlet Nantes from Heritage Harvest Seed
  • Purple Haze from McKenzie Seed
  • Red Cored Danvers from McKenzie Seed

Good luck!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wild Edibles

What do dandelions, burdocks (those bur plants your dog always seems to find), stinging nettle, and purslane (portulaca weed) all have in common?

If you're bristling just at the thought of them, you know them all as invasive, bothersome weeds that must be destroyed at first sight.

However, what would you say if I told you they are also all delicious and incredibly high in nutrients (not to mention their medicinal value)?

Burdock in soy/vinegar broth

Jerusalem Artichoke and Stinging Nettle Soup

Dandelion Flower Fritters
Makes you stop in your tracks and think, doesn't it.

I used to give training workshops where I would talk about the power of perception and how we all look at things through our own lenses.  There is always more to a scene than meets the eye of the beholder.  It seems this is also true in the garden.

This weekend I had a chance to try on a new set of lenses and gain a new perspective on common plants I always thought I knew.  Thanks to Laura Reeves, who put on a great one-day, hands-on course on wild edibles, I have a new perspective on some common plants.

Old Perspective
New Perspective
take over lawns
Flowers, buds, leaves and roots all edible, dried root can be used as a cocoa substitute
invasive destroyers of natural habitat
roots are delicious in soy/vinegar sauce & high medicinal properties
Stinging Nettle
burns the skin
makes amazing soup and tea
an octopus like garden weed
great in salads

Before you think I've gone off the deep end, don't worry, I'm not going to be planting dandelions or burdock in my garden (is that a sigh of relief I just heard from my garden plot neighbours?!).   I will however, look at them differently.  When I pull out the purslane from my garden, I'll save it and put it in my salad.  I may even pluck a few dandelion flowers and make some dandelion fritters for my kids.  Or perhaps I may dig up a few burdock roots in the spring for an Asian inspired feast.  And then, I'll sit back and relax with a nice cup of stinging nettle tea.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Good Worms, Bad Worms

I know some of you have been waiting for this year's worm photo, so here it is!

Digging in the garden almost two weeks ago, I found these two worms, perfect specimens of what you do and don't want in your garden.

That pink earthworm is great for the soil.  As it wriggles through the soil eating and pooping organic matter it aerates and mixes the soil - exactly what we need for our gardens.  Charles Darwin recognized the benefits of the earthworm when he wrote:
"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures. "

Then, there's the cutworm who eagerly cuts down just about anything green early in the spring.  About the only thing they don't seem to "cut" is quack grass!  At least if they did that, there might be some obvious benefit for having them around.

You know you have cut worms when you see your plants sawed off at the soil line.  Dig about an inch around the plant and you're likely to find a very fat, grey worm with a dark stripe down the side.  If he gets disturbed he'll curl into a tight c shape.  You know he's the culprit if he's plump and looks a little green.  In our garden, if we find them, we destroy them.  Not very zen like, but then neither is killing our innocent plants!

What I discovered last year was that the garlic and leeks that were chewed by the cutworms survived and regrew.  However, single stem plants like beans, peas and tomatoes were instant goners.  If the stem got cut, that was it for the plant.  Soooo, this year, I think I won't put collars on the garlic, onions and leeks in the hopes that they'll bounce back.  Protecting rows of beans and peas is tricky, so I'll just plant extras of those. Our tomatoes and peppers will definitely get collars again.  We'll start saving big round containers now.

How's your cutworm situation?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Growing Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage

At the end of April I planted kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seeds in jiffy peat pellets.  Just about every seed sprouted and turned into a little seedling.

That's the good news.

But, it's cold and wet outside and I probably won't be able to transplant them to the great outdoors for another week.  Now they're starting to grow tall and fall over.  What should I do?   They might not mind the cold outside, but I do!

I've taken some of them and transplanted them into bigger containers.  I planted them deep and covered a lot of the stalk with soil.  Hopefully the roots will get stronger and the stem stockier.

Is it time to move the flats outside?  Is life under the bright, warm lights with daily watering too cushy for them?

Any thoughts are welcome.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Planting Peas on Breakfast Television

This morning, as part of the Manitoba Association of Home Economists Family and Home feature on Breakfast Television, they showed some footage of the kids and I planting peas.  I also had a chance to talk about what to plant at what time and to show "lettuce in an egg carton".

Tons of fun!  Check out the video at Breakfast Television Winnipeg.

There's also another segment on May 10 featuring a recipe for Spinach Cheese Biscuits which I posted last spring.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May 2 - The snow, the water, the cold

Here's a photo of our community garden plot on May 2, 2011. Notice the swollen Red River in the background.  The snow is what is remaining of about 5cm that fell on May 1 with temperatures at -12.

The CBC had this to say on May 4, 2011:

The Red River is expected to crest in Winnipeg within the next couple of days, and although water levels won't be as high as they were in 2009, flood officials say they can't relax just yet.
What's different with this year's flood is the volume of water. A greater amount needs to flow through the city, up north, before it drains into Lake Winnipeg, so water levels will remain high in the city for weeks.
Officials also said if there is a heavy rain, many people could see flooded basements.
The crest will be about six metres at the James Avenue monitoring station, about one metre below the 2009 level.
So, while our plot probably won't be flooded, it looks like we have some more drying and warming up to do before we get planting in earnest