It’s been a while since my last update, but life has been pretty busy. In addition to the ongoing chaos of renovations, I had to travel back to Ontario for a week to take care of some stuff, and since I’ve returned it’s been a whirlwind of busy-ness: yardwork & gardening & setting up the new (functional-but-not-quite-finished) kitchen & trying to get back into a work routine, etc etc.
While I was away, the garden went bonkers and I am now wading through a glut of zucchini and cucumbers. So this weekend I am working on preserving some of that excess, starting with my first round of garlic dill pickles.
Garlic Dill Pickles
The recipe is super simple: cucumbers are chunked up into thick slices & packed into pint jars with dill seed, peppercorns, hot pepper flakes, mustard seed, coriander seed, and garlic cloves, then topped with pickling brine and hot-water-bath processed for 10 minutes.
Pickling is shockingly easy, guys.
Growing up, I remember my Mom doing huge batches of canning and pickling — dozens of jars in dozens of batches, taking days at a time and filling up shelf after shelf in the basement. It was an epic process that would destroy the kitchen and make a gawdawful mess. I was never interested in it — it seemed like so much work and planning and mess and chaos.
It was a revelation when I discovered that this isn’t how it has to be. It turns out that it’s possible to do small batch canning — prepping and preserving just a few jars at time, easily done on a lazy weekend afternoon. This made canning feel sane and achievable, something I could do in my small city kitchen to make use of some of the amazingly cheap & just-picked produce from the farmer’s market at the end of our street in Toronto. It was easy and fun, and that summer I made some of the best pickles I’ve ever had.
My go-to small batch canning books are Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint, both by Marisa McClellan. Lovely books with excellent recipes and great photography. I strongly recommend picking these up if you’re even remotely interested in doing your own pickling and preserving.
I have other books to recommend, but those will be for another day. Right now I’m going to start today’s pickling extravaganza, which, if all goes well, will include Zucchini Sriracha fridge pickles, Zucchini-Apple-Ginger chutney, and maybe some Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Relish. We’ll see how it goes.
It’s hot. Damn hot. If it doesn’t rain today or overnight, I’m going to have to bust out the hose tomorrow and give the gardens a drink. Humid as all git out, too, which means less puttering in the garden and more hiding in the basement studio (which is coming along to the point where I’m juuuuust about ready to go get my art stuff out of storage, woo!)
The gardens are still going utterly gangbusters, and we’ve started eating stuff out of them every day. So far it’s all just lettuce, radishes and herbs, but that’s mostly because we’re limited by our lack of kitchen and the fact that we can’t manage anything fancier than a salad in terms of prepwork. Once our kitchen is finished (~3 weeksish from now), we’ll be hip deep in kale, chard, zucchini, beet greens, peas and maybe the first snap beans. So, good timing all round, I suppose.
In terms of maintenance work, I do a tour of the gardens every day to keep an eye out for pests & diseases, as well as to yoink whatever weeds have sprouted. Takes maybe 10-15 minutes and is a pretty zen way to start the morning. So far we’ve had no disease issues, and no problems with pests other than the asian greens succumbing to flea beetles. It seems that we have a volunteer army of birds who really love eating all our slugs and seem otherwise content to snack on what we put in the feeders. So that’s handy. Birds! Who knew?
So, some update photos and notes!
All three types of peas have blossoms, and the earliest has set pods that are growing and fattening up nicely. I am so crazy looking forward to eating these, you have no idea. I’m totally making minted fresh peas with butter, and you can’t stop me. Aw yiss.
The earliest of the snap beans have started to flower, which is awesome. There are also three kinds of these in the garden, and it looks like we weren’t too late with these after all. If all goes well, we’ll have plenty to eat fresh and some for spicy pickled beans (which are excellent in Bloody Caesars #protip).
My most recent count has us with 40 visible zucchini on the plants, and around five times that number of flowers working on more. We are going to be utterly awash in zucchini soon, which is hilarious and not unexpected, but still hilarious. We will eat as much of it as we can, and likely foist it upon friends and relatives in the near future. Pictured are Sunburst Zucchini (they turn into fat little UFO-shaped golden pods), and Golden Zucchini. We also have Rich Green and Magda plants.
The beets have started forming roots! Huzzah! That is the best part of the beet, although the greens are also insanely great (try ’em – chopped up and sauted with butter and garlic, or with bacon? Omg, srs, you need to eat some.) I am a little alarmed at just how many beets there are in the one bed, but from what I’ve read they will happily push each other out of the way and grow in ridiculous conditions. We’ll definitely start harvesting these for greens & baby beets when our kitchen is finished up.
Spinach, Chard, Kale & Cucumbers
Not pictured: The bunching onions I seeded in a narrow strip of soil between the spinach and the chard. They haven’t sprouted yet.
I really have to get some trellises up for the cucumbers, because they’re putting out tendrils and want to climb things (which is great – keeping cucumbers out of the dirt is absolutely something you want to do if you can). So that will be some of my time tomorrow.
The spinach (closest to camera), chard, and kale are all getting huge. We can start eating those now and they should keep producing through until frost (or later). This is only a fraction of our kale and chard — maybe 1/4? We will have way more than enough greens to get us through ’til November, which is awesome and delicious.
Lettuces and Tomatoes
The tomatoes are doing their thing, which is mostly growing rapidly and starting to put out masses of flowers. It will be a while before we see anything off any of those other than the giant hybrid monstrosity that is rapidly taking over the deck.
We’re eating stuff out of the lettuce array every day, and need to step it up. For like $12 worth of seeds we’re going to have all of the salad greens we can eat for (seriously) the next 3-4 years. Plus the previously mentioned kale, spinach, chard, beet greens and all the rest. The only thing we’re missing is arugula and that’s because I screwed up and forgot to seed some. I should figure out somewhere to stick some now because that would do fine for the rest of the summer and autumn.
Potatoes and Winter Squash
This is where we’re playing the long game, since at best we won’t see harvests out of these until October. We have three types of potatoes planted out in these potato tower things Rob built, and they’re all going crazy now. It’s likely Rob will have to add the third layer of boards & more soil on the weekend. These will be harvest when all the foliage dies off, which won’t be happening for a while.
I planted four kinds of winter squash — Early Butternut, Sweet Mama, Sunshine, and Heart of Gold. The Early Butternut aren’t doing terribly well, but the rest have gone crazy and are huge and slightly terrifying at this point. They’re easily a foot tall now, and they seem to be fine with the ridiculously cramped non-raised bed thing I built for them. Last week I read an article suggesting that I didn’t actually start these too late, so may actually get a viable harvest thing year. Fingers crossed!
Not sure I’ve mentioned these before, but when we picked up plants for the herb garden, Rob found this sad little pot of three hot pepper plants in the discount bin and decided to adopt them. There was one Jalapeno plant, one Thai Chili (or Cayenne?) plant, and one Habanero plant. We stuck ’em in the middle of the herb garden, not expecting much, but holy crap. The Jalapeno plant has easily 15 peppers on it already, and just threw up a whole other shoot that has flowers all over it, and the Thai Chili plant is…festooned. Like maybe 100 peppers? It’s nuts. The Habanero is taking its sweet time, but has started to blossom — no visible fruit at this point, but we’re hopeful. Not bad for discount bin orphans.
Not pictured: Dill & Cilantro & Spearmint. Yeah, the herbs are doing crazy well and we’re using them daily. Thyme has been featured in pasta and cider-steamed mussels, cilantro in fajitas and …something else I can’t think of right now, dill & chives in tunafish sammiches, basil in salads, etc. Next year I have plans for a whole separate and much larger meandering, organic, lovely herb garden with a little fence around it and a comfy place to sit with tea or wine and a book. I may be turning into an old lady.
That’s it! We love our garden and recommend growing your own stuff to everyone who has any space at all. It’s really just neat, and seriously easy to do once you get the basics sorted.
Right now my hands smell of thyme and sage. Tonight we will have our first salads from the garden — a simple salad of mixed greens, and a small caprese salad with tomatoes and basil we’ve grown ourselves. There may also be mussels and/or salmon…we’ll see.
Some photos, with notes.
Indigo Kumquat tomatoes – this is a semi-indeterminate hybrid that has taken over a significant part of our deck. Purchased from the discount bin, it was already sprawling and complicated, and after some judicious pruning and trellising, has started to do pretty well. It’s in a pot that’s probably too small at this point, but there’s no way we can repot it without losing half of the existing large cherry tomatoes, so I’ve topped it up with pure seafood compost and with an extra gallon of water yesterday seems to be doing pretty well. The plant probably has 50 tomatoes started already, the first 4-5 we’ll be eating today, and is starting new flowers constantly. If I can keep it alive, I expect this plant will continue producing right until frost.
Pea flower – We’ve got three types of peas started, and the first flowers emerged this week. We have about 30 pea plants underway that are being trained up a simple bamboo trellis. I love fresh peas, so I’m hoping these will actually work, even though it’s pretty late in the season.
Sweet 100 tomatoes – these are a determinate tomato, which we also picked up in the discount bin, scoring 8 plants for $4. They’re planted out in the garden beds and are doing pretty well now. They’ve doubled in size in the last couple of weeks and have set fruit with plenty more flowers on the way.
Proto zucchini – We love zucchini so naturally I’ve planted far too many. I think we have 20 plants of four types, including golden, green, white, and “Sunburst” pattypan. This week we’ve seen the first itty bitty zucchini on all but the Sunburst plants, so we’ll be swimming in it soon. Luckily zucchini grills up like a champ and is something we’re happy eating pretty much every day.
The salad bar – I think there are eight types of lettuce here, including three red leaf, three green leaf, “Little Gem” romaine, and Black Seeded Simpson. The tomatoes in the back are “Patio” tomatoes which are a determinate cherry tomato. There are a couple of “Sweet 100s” in here as well. The lettuce is ready to start harvesting, which we’ll do as “cut and come again”, taking only a couple of the outer leaves from each plant at a time and letting them continue to grow for the rest of the season.
Radish – I’ve planted 3 types of radish and they grow like stink. I think this is two weeks old and it will be ready to harvest in a week or so. I’ll plant more when these are done so we have an ongoing source of radishy goodness.
Beets – We have …a lot of beets. Or, more accurately, currently we have a lot of beet greens. We’ve planted half Boldor (golden) beets and half Bull’s Blood (crazy dark red) beets, and will start harvesting greens from these soon. The roots haven’t developed yet, but they should be big and ready for a pickling marathon in late September or early October. I make a honey-ginger pickled beet that is pretty much my favourite pickle in the world, thus the comically large number of beets in our garden.
Broccoli Rabe – Still very small and struggling a bit with the wind (we get a lot of wind), but these have grown quite a lot in the last week or so. I believe there are even some proto-shoots starting, which is encouraging. I will likely seed more of these soon since they’re a cool weather crop and should do better in the autumn.
Swiss Chard – We planted Kaleidoscope chard seeds and have about a dozen plants going strong. We’ll be able to start harvesting leaves from these pretty much any time, and they should last through until October or so.
Kale! – This is Blue Dwarf Curly kale and we also have a bunch of Black Kale. Really too much of both, with I think 20 plants of each scattered throughout the garden. Luckily we love kale (thanks to @shappy), and will be experimenting with kale chips in addition to salads and sauted greens. Yum. Kale is another cool weather crop, so these should last through October as well.
Cilantro, herbs & hot peppers – the herb bed contains Sage (2), Cilantro (3), Thyme (3), Oregano (2), Sweet Basil (3), Thai Basil (3), Lemon Balm (1), Dill (2), plus Jalapeno, Thai Chili, and Habanero plants. They are all going total gangbusters and we can start harvesting from them (except the hot peppers) any time. I will probably figure out how to do herbs indoors this year as well, so should be able to score herb seeds in the inevitable end-of-season seed sales. Woop woop. Oh we also have a spearmint plant, but he’s banished to a container on the patio, and garlic chives courtesy of the previous owner of our house. The chives will be transplanted into a better spot next spring.
Rob’s Potato Towers – Rob is somewhat obsessed with growing potatoes, so has built and planted four potato towers with three types of organic potatoes (Yukon Gold, Russet, and Chieftain). The towers are about 2′ x 2.5′, and will be 2′ tall when they’re finished. The theory is that you build a frame that can be made taller throughout the season, and as the potato plants grow upwards, you build additional layers and fill them in with soil and compost, giving the plants more space for potatoes. Rob just added the second layer to these this week, and they should be finished up in a couple of months. The source of these plans claims that you can get as many as 100 lbs of potatoes from each tower, but we’ll see. We’ll make a video of the harvest when the time comes!
The crazy apple tree – this is one of the three apple trees on our land, and is by far the largest. This is also where about a billion goldfinches live. We have no idea what kind of apple it is, and the tree has been sorely neglected for at least a decade, but we’re looking forward to spending a few years rehabbing this tree and seeing what it can produce. One of the other apple trees is very similar, but smaller (also in rough shape), and the third is a crabapple tree, which will be handy for jams & jellies (crabapples are a great source of natural pectin) and for the birds.
Not pictured – two types of cucumber (doing well), three types of snap bean (also doing well, but pretty slow…we’ll see), and four types of winter squash that probably don’t have enough time to ripen anything before the hard frosts come, but I’m going to let them carry on and see what happens.
And that’s the update for today. There have been some failures along the way — I had to ditch all of the asian greens because they were infested with flea beetles. Next year they’ll all be in one bed and grown under row cover until they’re large enough to survive on their own. Also the cucamelons are super super slow and there’s no way they’ll produce anything this year, so I’m going to pull those out today and use the space for something else. I’ve got some bunching onions I want to plant, as well as perpetual spinach, snowball turnips, arugula, and maybe some leeks.
In our original “move back to Moncton and buy a place in the country” plan, we expected to be house-hunting for at least a couple of months, with the end-goal of moving into a new place by the end of September. We blew that goal out of the water, however, accidentally finding the perfect spot in a matter of days rather than months.
The weekend after we took possession of our house, I leapt into action and planted six flats of seeds (from Vesey’s Seeds over in PEI), including:
lettuces (various red, various green, black seeded simpson, sweet gem, etc)
kale (blue curly & black)
zucchini (richgreen, golden, sunburst, magda)
swiss chard (kaleidoscope)
cucumber (calypso, summer dance)
french beans (maxibel, teggia, soleil)
beets (bulls blood, boldor)
chinese cabbage (emiko)
peas (misty, dalvay, sabre)
squash (sweet mama, sunshine, early butternut, heart of gold)
various greens (baby leaf, stir fry, spicy mix, etc.)
While those were busily sprouting, Rob and I built 10 4×8′ 6″ deep raised beds, and filled them with a mix of garden soil and seafood compost. I’ll tell you this: you know you live in the maritimes when your compost is full of lobster shells.
As for planting, we started with the sunniest bed and filled it with herb and hot pepper plants we purchased (not enough time to do those from seed this year). Yesterday, I planted out most of the seedlings and will finish those up today along with direct-seeding a bunch of radish (they don’t like being transplanted). The finishing touch will be making bamboo & twine trellises for all of the climbing things, such as beans, peas, cucumbers, and zucchini.
On top of all of this, Rob also built and planted four potato towers, using three types of seed potatoes. Suffice it to say, we’re super curious to see how all of this works out.
Anyhow, that’s the garden update for this week! More photos and updates soon!