Garden v. 2010

I didn't post much about the garden last fall, and so an update, before I start in on this year's garden.

I planted a LOT of things last year, and most did really well- especially for my first garden :)

The herbs did really well, even though I never got around to drying any for winter use (well, I tried - they went mouldy instead).  My brassica crops did great as well, except for the green cabbage.  I grew the red and the green cabbage right next to one another, and the damn cabbage moth caterpillars ate almost the entire crop of green cabbages, while leaving the red completely alone.  I'll try covering the brassicas this year and see how it works, but I'm also willing to let the caterpillars have the green cabbages if it means they leave everything else alone! 

The tomatoes and peppers did GREAT!  I harvested over 90 pounds of plum tomatoes for canning (salsa, crushed tomatoes and sauce), plus a lot more "beefsteak"-type for fresh eating.  And lots of peppers, both hot and sweet.

The beans and peas would have done better if I actually remembered to harvest them more often, but I did get a few meals out of them - none for the freezer though.  And actually, the peas would have done VASTLY better had the local rabbit not decided to use them as it's bed every night!

The lettuce, beets, carrots, onion, etc. - all did good, and provided a lot of food over the course of the summer.  Staggered planting really made a difference with these crops, allowing smaller harvests at regular intervals, instead of a glut all at once.

And then the squash.  Remember the squash that was doing fantastic?  That I bragged about?

I really should know better.

It went from this:

To this, one month later:

I got a handful of zucchini, two spaghetti squashes and one lemon cucumber.

That's it.

Enough for a meal or so, out of such a promising crop.  And all because of the #($*@ cucumber beetles.  The beetles transmit a bacterium, Erwinia tracheiphilia, that causes bacteria wilt.  The grubs also feed on the roots of the plants, compounding the problem.

The worst part?  I did plant pathology research for 15 years.  I KNOW this stuff.  And I still ignored the problem, resulting in a complete crop loss.  Grrrr.....

Ah, well, live and learn, right?  Part of this whole journey is to figure things out, before it becomes completely necessary to rely on them.  A crop loss last year, while frustrating, didn't mean I starved last winter.  But I did learn a valuable lesson :)

And now on to this year's garden...

$500 Challenge - June Edition

It the time of year that I start harvesting my herbs, and hopefully this year, I'll figure out a good way of drying them.  Of course, once they are dry, I need a place to store them.  And, of course, while I don't want to keep all those little plastic bottles that my store-bought herbs came in, I also don't want to spend a fortune on glass replacements.

Local stores to the rescue!

I found the small ones at the dollar store, for $1.25 each, and the larger ones at the bulk food store for $3.39 each.  20 of the small, and 5 of the large should cover most of my herb storage needs.  Yes, they are made in China, and yes, I could have simply kept and re-used jars from other products.

But I have a guilty little secret - I like pretty things.  I like the idea of opening up a cupboard, and seeing all my home-grown herbs in cute, matching little wire-bail jars.  With my tea herbs in larger ones in the next cupboard over.  And while I do agree we need to make some drastic changes in our lifestyles (or we will be forced to do so eventually), I also know that I'm not perfect, and I'll make up for these guilty little purchases by not doing other things, like having a cell phone, or a large-screen TV, etc.  This journey isn't about perfection, it's about doing what you can, the best you can, and enjoying the trip.  And yes, these wee containers do make me happy :)

Costs: 20 x $1.25 + 5 x $3.39 + $5.45
Total: $47.40
Balance: $121.52

Drying, trying, and crying

Drying:  strawberries, blueberries and chamomile flowers

2 quarts of strawberries, already dried.  The smell contained in that jar is indescribably amazing!

Did you know blueberries take FOREVER to dry? (20 hours and counting at this point...)

The beginnings of a winter's worth of tea:

Trying: four different methods of drying lemons.

Slivered zest:

Larger pieces of zest:

Slices without peel (the source of the zest, of course!):

Slices with peel:

And crying:  my first drying failure.  Well, second, if you count my failure in this same area last year.  Mom and Dad gave me the dehydrator last year for my birthday, which is in the fall.  So I first tried to dry my herbs and mints last summer by just bagging them with a paper bag, and letting air dry.

Total, complete, mouldy failure.

I blame Lake Erie :)  Honestly, I think it's too humid here to air dry.  So, this year, I tried the dehydrator.

Total, complete, tasteless failure. 

Those are supposed to be two large bottles of dried oregano.  It smells NOTHING like oregano. 

That is supposed to be a large jar of dried lemon balm.  It smells exactly the same as the oregano.  Which means it smells nothing like lemon balm. 

I jarred them up, thinking the scent would somehow magically re-appear once they were contained.  Yeah, not so much.  I've finally convinced myself the only good place for these is the compost heap :(

I think the problem is the dehydrator, which is simply too hot for drying herbs without ruining their scent.  I'll try air drying again this year, in a place with better air movement.  Other than that, I'm out of ideas.

Does anyone out there dry herbs in a humid place?  Any trick or tips to share?  Please??

Cavena Nuda, aka getting naked with my oats

I first heard about this "new" grain back in March, but when I mentioned it to Canadian Doomer, and she found the price, I put it out of my head.

Then I got last week's flyer for my local bulk food store, which featured the for the "sale" price of $3.99 a pound.  As the flyer also had a $3.00 off coupon if you spent more than $10.00, I figured it was time to try naked oats.

So, along with the peas from the CSA box, I made a potato curry (very simple - saute some onions, add some broth (I used chicken), cut up potatoes and curry powder, simmer until the taters are almost done, add the peas, cook until done) and served it over the oats.


It is not a rice substitute.  Really, it isn't.  It was fantastic, and in a direct comparison, I actually prefer it to rice.  It is most similar to brown rice, but nuttier and chewier - both qualities I love in my grains.  However, for certain dishes, like curries, rice works better because it "disappears" into the dish.  Naked oats, like barley in my risotto, lends such distinctive flavour and texture, it does not make good supporting characters.  That being said, I, personally, would have no issues with replacing rice with naked oats, but I love the chewiness and nuttiness of oats and barley, and not everyone does.  And I also don't cook a lot with rice to begin with, so a "lesser" replacement wouldn't impact me that much.

However... We get back into that compromise between frugality and sustainability and local eating.

Please realize that the normal price for naked oats is over $5.00 a pound, and even on sale, this item is about 3 times more expensive than rice.  For a family that eats a lot of rice, this is not going to be a frugal replacement.  Even for me, I'd think twice about buying this at regular prices.  Especially when there are local replacements (wheat and barley) that are very similar, and much less expensive.   

I didn't use all that I bought for the curry, so I think my next trick will be to do a head-to-head-to-head comparison with oats, wheat and barley.  Until then, the jury is out :)

CSA Basket 2 of 10

See?  Up there?  The picture I didn't take, yet again, of my CSA basket, because *someone* didn't recharge the camera battery?

We are somedogs, not someones.  
Also, lacking opposable thumbs, we are not responsible for battery re-charging.

Oh well, simply close your eyes, and picture a box full of lettuces (romaine, a bag of mixed leaves and one of micro-greens), some chard, green onions, radishes, small turnips, a pint of peas and strawberries and rhubarb.

The peas will join some store-bought new potatoes and an onion from my garden in a curry, served over "naked oats"*.  The lettuces will get added to more from my garden, and become my workday lunch salads.  And the chard will join some beans and sausage in a cassoulet.  I'll stew the rhubarb with local maple syrup, and add it to my morning breakfast of granola and yoghurt.

The strawberries?

They never made it out of the car :)

*more about naked oats in another post!

Happy summer solstice eve!!!

I thought it would be a good time to post an update on those lilacs I planted a while back

Don't they look great??


Really? You don't believe me?

Okay, fine.  Yes, all the little free ones died.  Since they didn't have much of a root system, I'm not too surprised.  A bit disappointed, but not surprised.  It was still worth the attempt though.  So, today, I went to the garden centre, and bought four new ones to replace them.  While costing significantly more, the silver lining here is that I got four different varieties, and so will have a nice show of flowers (hopefully) in the years to come. 

From front to back: 

Syringa pubescens microphylla 'Superba': littleleaf lilac with rosy pink flowers
Syringa vulgaris 'Aucubaefolia': double blue flowers
Syringa vulgaris 'President Poincare': magenta red flowers
Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation': purple and white flowers

Every good deed has a silver lining.

The price tag for good deeds is very steep these day.  And so begins the Great Lawnmower Saga of 2011...

You see, the neighbours went away a couple of weeks ago.  Being a nice person (I can hear you laughing, you know), I decided to mow their lawn for them just before they came home, figuring that's the last thing I'd want to do right after a vacation! 

However, I didn't realize there was a metal pipe of some sort poking up though the lawn.  A pipe, capped with a flat metal piece held on by two bolts.

Well, one bolt now, since I sheared off the other one with my mower.  And killed my mower in the process.  Although I'm not that mechanically inclined, I figured it was dead when I turned it over, and all the innards fell out.  I'm intuitive like that.

Of course, the two hostas planted in the middle of the neighbour's front yard now make much more sense - too bad I didn't realize they are there to mark the location of the pipe!

Now, my mower was a very cheap, very basic electric mower, that has served me well since I bought it two years ago, and if it was still in working order, I'd still be using it.  But, as I've put more gardens in the yard, it has gotten more and more frustrating to drag a 100' power cord behind me, trying to make sure it's not dragging over something I want to keep alive.  Mowing has gone from something I really enjoy, to just another chore to be gotten through. 

I thought long and hard when it came time to pick another mower.  I really do like the idea of electric mowers, and I like reel ones even better, but the reality is I'm getting older every year, and my yard is not getting any smaller or easier to mow.  I also wanted a bagger, which would allow me to bag up that wonderful nitrogen (in the form of grass clipping and fallen leaves) and use it for mulch or add it to the compost.

So I caved.

I went gas powered.  Yep, a horribly polluting, expensive, gas powered lawn mower.  Oddly enough, the first one I have ever used (growing up, our yards were always large enough we had riding mowers).  Of course, buying a lawn mower, like usual for me, was easier said than done.

I tried Walmart:  No, we don't have that model, it's in the warehouse, I mean on a truck, I mean it's been ordered, no I can't tell you when it will get here, no I can't hold it for you, no no no no no.  But feel free to go out of your way every day to stop in (oh, I guess you could phone) and see if we have it yet.

No thanks.

I tried (and I really should know better) Home Depot:  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  Go to customer disservice, ask for help.  Seasonal paged to the lawnmower section.  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Guy walks by on his way home, realizes I'm waiting, pages seasonal to lawnmowers again.  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  Clerk  approaches... and veers off to help someone with a patio set (all the while looking at me, so she knows I'm waiting for help).  Customer leaves, clerk heads in my direction.... only to answer the phone, and spend five minutes talking to someone looking for a part.  That's when I lost it, and went back to customer disservice.  A bit of a rant later, I got a very nice lady (Liz from Liverpool) to help - she answers my questions, and brings the mower I selected up to cash.

It's the wrong mower.

Wait, wait, wait, wait wait.  She brings another mower up to cash.  It rings up $50 less than it should have, but I just thought it was on sale (I really, really, really, really, really should know better).  We struggle to get it into the car - the only way it will fit is to take it out of the box and tip it into the back seat.   We realize this after scratching the back bumper trying to get it into the trunk.  Grrrrrr....

Get it home, get it out of the back seat...

It's the wrong mower.

I had figured I would have trouble starting a mower with a pull cord thingy, so I splurged for the key-start feature.  No key start on this mower.  The one thing I really wanted...

Now, I was in Home Depot for AN HOUR AND A HALF, trying to buy a damn lawn mower.  Some of that time was spent looking at all the different options, but the major part was spent trying to get help to buy the damn thing.  So, the last thing I wanted to do was struggle to put the damn thing back in the car, drive back to Home Depot, and repeat the whole business.  Besides, the grass was getting to the schnauzer-eating stage again, and I was afraid I'd loose a dog if it wasn't mowed soon...

I got the mower assembled, and started, no problem.  Mowed half the lawn (oddly enough, the self-propelled feature didn't seem to make that much of a difference, but what do I know about gas mowers?).  I had to stop the mower a half dozen times to move things, and it started up again fine each time.

Until it didn't.  I tried everything.  I even read the manual.  Would.  Not.  Start.

The last thing I want is to be frustrated on a regular basis while trying to mow the lawn.  The whole thing with Home Depot frustrated me to no end, and the fact that I got the wrong mower, and one that didn't even work properly (and it was NOT cheap), made the whole thing so much worse.

Of course, a mower filled with gas and oil won't go back in my car without spilling fluids all over the place...

I know stores have return policies, and I even give Home Depot credit for having a great one.

But they can't return my wasted time, and the time Dad wasted coming to my house, putting the mower in the back of the truck, driving to the store, returning the mower, and driving to Canadian Tire to get another one.

So, after way too much grief and wasted time, I now have a new lawn mower.  One that starts with a key, every time.  (Well, one that starts after Dad made another trip over here this morning to teach me that it helps when you have the spark plug connected.  Ooops!).  One that really is self-propelled, and has a speed control to boot (I'm glad it does, because I'd look damn funny trying to mow the lawn while running to keep up!)  And one that allows me to mow the lawn in about HALF the time it took with the electric mower.

Yes, it pollutes much more than my old mower (but less than the old 2-stroke engines).  But the time saved will be put to good use.  And I can collect clippings to help the garden.  And it has turned mowing back into something enjoyable again.

And it's red :)

Now she just needs a name...

Oh, and I vow, once again, to NEVER shop at Home Depot EVER again.

CSA Basket 1 of 10

Barley and roasted asparagus risotto

We got our fist CSA basket last Friday, containing asparagus, lettuce mix, radishes,  green onions, micro-greens, kale, Swiss chard, small turnips, and a small-leaved basil transplant.  Although the farm owners apologized for such a "scanty" basket*, I thought it was plenty enough, given the spring we have had! 

Part of this whole project is to see how well I do at actually eating seasonally, so I will be completely honest here - I had such a busy weekend (with an out-of town guest - had a GREAT time though!!), that the compost ended up getting the perishables - the kale, chard and micro-greens.  My apologies to the growers, since I know I would be pissed to see my hard work getting tossed out!

However, the lettuce, radishes and green onions went into my first salad of the year, complete with a dressing made with my chive vinegar - yum!

And I was trying to figure out what to do with the turnips and asparagus.  I know I could have simply cooked them as usual, and eaten both as a veggie, but I wanted something a bit different.  Something that would extend the vegetables into a main meal, since spring is traditionally the "starving" time of year, and I think it's important to have a store of recipes that, while taking advantage of what is available, keeps this in mind.  Omelettes and soups would both work, but I wanted to challenge myself, and try something new.

And lo and behold, I had a brain-storm one day - risotto.  Keeping with the "local" theme, I chose barley over rice (not that this barley is local, that I know of, but it could be, unlike rice).  The information that came with the basket suggested roasting the turnips, so I thought a roasted veggie and barley risotto would do.  And seeing that I had stock, barley and Parmesan cheese (I know, not local, but again, could be) on hand, I didn't have to buy any groceries to make this work.  Unfortunately, when I went to clean and cut the turnips, I realized each was occupied by some insect, so those, too, went to the compost.  But the asparagus was good!  Again, I don't follow recipes, but this is basically what I did:


1 bunch of asparagus, washed and trimmed.
1 onion, minced (or, if, like me, a mince is beyond you, chopped as small as you can!)
2 cups barley
4 cups stock (I used store-bought beef stock, in a 900 ml container)
~1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please use the real stuff, not the impostor that comes in the plastic container! (says the woman using store-bought stock...))
vegetable oil, salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.
Heat a glug of oil in a large pot, over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion, and cook until soft.  Add the barley, and cook for ~1 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the stock, bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the barley is cooked and the stock is absorbed.  (I cooked mine for the full 45 minutes, and it was still a bit chewy, but that's the way I like it.  Like all risottos, the liquid volumes and cooking times are suggestions only, since it really depends on what grain you are using, and how tender you like it. ) 
While the barley is cooking, place the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and pour a bit oil over it - just enough to lightly cover.  Shake the pan back and forth to distribute the oil, then salt and pepper to taste (do not use a lot of salt, especially if you are using store-bought stock!).  Place in the oven, and roast for 5-10 minutes, watching very carefully - thin asparagus will not take long at all to roast, thicker will take a bit more, but this is a very quick cooking method!  Every few minutes, take the pan out, shake it back and forth to move the asparagus around.  When it is tender, take it out, and allow to cool slightly.  Cut into ~2-3" pieces when it's cool enough to handle (adding it to the cooked barley will heat it back up). 
When the barley is done to your liking, add the cheese and chopped asparagus.  Stir well, taste, and adjust any seasonings.  (I found it salty enough, and almost too salty - next time, I'll use home-made stock, since the salt on the asparagus, and the salty cheese, are enough for my taste.)  
Then dish up and enjoy!!

Since I only have a half share, it means I get a full basket every two weeks, so no basket this Friday.  But if I'm not working Saturday, I'll head out to the Farmer's Market, and see what looks good there!  Meanwhile, there is another blogger who belongs to the same CSA - go see what she's making with her bounty!!  She has posts at Eating Local in Niagara and Eating Niagara.  Enjoy!

* for future weeks, I will try to take a picture of the basket before I unpack it.  Blame a busy weekend for this week's lapse!

Planting a free shrub in a $20 hole.

After putting in an extra shift at work on Saturday, Sunday was a busy, busy, busy day! 

I did 6 loads of laundry and finally got to use the line to dry everything - the never-ending rain has resulted in using the dryer more than I like, since I LOVE line-dried clothes, especially sheets. 

I then ran some errands, including buying 85 pounds of chicken for the dogs (Sunday was the last day of a really good sale, and I have a freezer :) ), then came home, and cut up and bagged the chicken.  A lot of work, but added to some beef I'll buy this week, it's food for the next 4 months for them, so it is worth it!

Then came the "fun" part of the weekend.  While I plan to fence the back yard, I don't want the fence to go into the front yard, but I want something to mark the boundary line, and flowering shrubs, to form an eventual hedge, are a great alternative.  My sister's lilac sends up shoots every year, so this year, she dug out 12 of them and gave them to me.  By the time Sunday rolled around, they had been sitting in a bucket of water for over 24 hours, and HAD to get planted. 

I marked 30" out from the property line, and ran a line to mark the edge.

I started digging out the sod along the line - and WOW, was it thick sod!

I then ran the line back at 42" from the property line, and dug out the rest of the sod, resulting in a 12" wide trench. 

12", by 22 FEET long.  Twenty-two feet long, through thick sod, all by hand.  Fortunately, I had ice water with mint from the garden to keep me refreshed!


I filled the trench with topsoil, and spaced the lilacs ~22" apart.  One down, 11 more to go...

And done!  There was a range of sizes, and I realized after I got them all planted that I probably should have put the smaller ones in between the larger ones, to make it more even, but I am NOT digging them out and re-planting.

I'll be surprised if all of them live, and actually won't be surprised if none of them live - they were in water a long time.  But the total cost of the project was $20 in topsoil - $20 for a row of lilacs that, if I had to buy them from a garden centre, would cost me at least ten times as much, and I still would have had to buy the topsoil!  I've been watering them well, and I'll eventually mulch the area, but wow! 

 $20, three hours of work - and, after almost three years, the beginnings of my flower gardens!!  Thanks sis!!

June?? Already? REALLY?? Aka $500 Challenge - May Edition

And I haven't done the May $500 Challenge update!  I guess spring isn't the only thing that is behind?

One of the main purposes of this challenge was to replace kitchen items that I wasn't happy using anymore - and a big one was my Teflon-coated cookware.  I started the challenge off with a 12" Lodge skillet, and I LOVE it!  So this month, I decided to expand my Lodge inventory with an 8" skillet and a grill pan.

And yes indeed, I bought them from Walmart in Buffalo, USA.

Why?  Because I am not rich, that's why.

The grill pan in Canada, from Home Hardware: $38.99

The exact same pan in Buffalo, mere minutes away from me:  $18.97

These items are more than TWICE as expensive in Canada.  Now, I firmly believe in supporting local business, and local producers.  I will not buy produce or meat from Walmart, I try to buy all my garden plants from local garden centres, I prefer shopping at local stores vs. big box chains.

Up to a point.  And when that point is double the money, for something that isn't local to begin with, then yes, I will shop where my money goes the farthest.  And Walmart in the USA has a much larger selection of Lodge products than Home Hardware does, and the Walmarts here don't even carry them!

So, for less than the cost of the grill pan here, I got both the grill pan and the 8" skillet.  I've already used them (sausages in the grill pan, a mixture of bacon, potatoes and onions in the skillet for a quick supper one night), and I know they will get a lot more use in the future.  With the 12" skillet, the 8" skillet, two (non-Lodge) enamelled cast iron Dutch ovens and the grill pan,  I'm well covered for anything I think I'll be cooking a lot of!  I would like the deeper "chicken fryer", but it's not something I need right now and so can be put on the "want" list.  I'd also like the large Dutch oven, since the lid also fits the 12" skillet, but again, it's not a necessity right now.

skillet + grill pan: $29.94 + $2.62 tax  (the tax rate for Buffalo is 8.75%, and the Canadian dollar is worth slightly more than the US dollar right now, but it's such as small difference, I'm not taking it into account)
Total: $32.56
Balance: $168.93

Sometimes, you just have to wrap yourself in a blanket and jump*

I did it.  I put my money where my mouth is - literally!

I signed up for my first CSA yesterday.

Yes, I do have a rather large vegetable garden.  But I signed up for a CSA anyway.


1. My garden isn't quite large enough (yet) to be my main source of vegetables for any extended period
2. I have NO fruit plants (yet) (well, other than those that are botanically fruits but eaten as savory dishes, such as squash, tomatoes, peppers... what?  Too geeky?  Sorry, moving on....)
3. While I am growing a large variety of  plants, there are many I don't grow that are available through the CSA
4. I'm interested in seeing if I can actually handle a large amount of produce coming in all at once, and either use it or preserve it before it turns into compost.  And at $25.00 every two weeks for a half share, it's money I'm willing to risk to discover my shortcomings before I put the larger amount of money into expanding my own garden
5. And last, but not least, I'm supporting a very local farmer instead of the non-local grocery chains

It starts the week after next, and a half share is actually a full basket every two weeks (a full share is a basket every week).  I'll be picking it up at the farm (who's web site is currently down) on Friday afternoons, and hopefully will be posting regularly about the CSA and my own garden, and how my attempts as eating local are working out!  Good times :)

I have a LOT of meat in the freezer, and am planning on using that up over the summer, then also starting to source my meat locally.  Due to the price, I'll be eating a lot more vegetarian meals, and need some help there.

Anyone care to share their favourite vegetarian recipes, that can be made from mostly local items??  Please?!?!

*My former boss used to come out with some interesting sayings.  We were never sure if he was doing a literal translation from his first language, or if these were just odd sayings of his, but either way, they were memorable!


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