We have germination, OUTDOORS!!

Take that Mother Nature! It has snowed, gone below zero, rained every day this week and been down right, unseasonably, unthinkably yucky. But under the frost blankets and hoop tunnels, we have germination!! Not much, not all, and not quickly, but we have it. The seedlings we planted under the hoops are also happy and thriving, whew!

Score Tally: Us = 2, Mother Nature = 0… The “Spring that Wasn’t” saga continues…

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Lovely little green veggie babies snuggled under their blankie…kind of cute, hey? These were planted 10 days ago.

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And under the hoops the big brother and sister seedlings are going strong!  Not much germination yet, but they were only planted on Sunday.  Can you spot the lone Bok Choi poking up?

Under the hoops are Taunus, Detriot Dark Red Supreme, Chioggia and First Crop beets, Rainbow mix and Napoli carrots, Cherry Belle and Easter Egg radish, Bok Choi, Peppermint and Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Ragged Jack and Dinosaur Kale, red and white onion sets, Giant Musselborough Leek, overwintered hard neck garlic and Butter Crunch lettuce.

I hope they all stay alive and that more join them soon!

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” ~ Joseph Addison

Fed up. Hoops Up!

It snowed again today.  No accumulation, but big, wet, yucky flakes came down.  Again.  Mother Nature and I are having a time out.  A pause.  I am trying to be the bigger person and not throw a full on hissy fit – it is pretty tough, but so far I am in for the win.  This past weekend was glorious!  A large amount of snow had melted and by Sunday evening I had 4 raised beds thawed and moist and the main veggie bed almost visible.  There was hope!  I even started hardening off the early veggie babies and the perennial seedlings on the porch.  Apparently Mother Nature put her big old arctic mukluk wearing foot down.  But I am no schmuck – I got prepared. That does’t mean I am happy about it.

I am now a full 3 weeks behind where I was 2 years ago, not a single pea has gone in the ground.  Not cool, Mother Nature. This guy won’t be deterred and neither will I!

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What do maritimers who really like to garden in the early spring do when they get fed up?  We pull out the construction supplies, our rubber boots, the frost blankets and the pitch forks and get the hoops up!  Mini hoop tunnels provide additional protection from frost, sleet, snow, deer, rabbits and wind.  They can allow early cold hardy varieties to be started as soon as the snow has melted enough to find the dirt (usually end of March or early April).  They also allow for tender annuals to go out a bit earlier without worrying about the random late frosts wiping them out ( 2 weeks or so).  Different types of covers can be used depending on the season or level of protection needed.  This time of year, I cover my tunnels with 6mm vapour barrier to create a greenhouse effect and warm the soil up quicker with as much light transmission as possible.  In the summer, I will cover with thin shade cloth to keep cooler veggies happy in the heat and in the late fall or winter I will use heavy frost blankets as insulation to eek out a few extra weeks of growing.

Here is how we set up our hoop tunnels:

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Using the circular saw, I cut 6 foot lengths of 3/4 inch PVC pipe (50 feet of the black stuff was $17.99 at Canadian Tire.  The white stuff was more expensive – I was excited to find it cheaper!)  My beds are 4 feet wide, 6 feet hoops give me roughly 2 feet of clearance once they are placed in the raised beds.

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I then hammered 18 inch and 24 inch rebar stakes into the freshly turned soil so that they are deep enough to be sturdy (look in the top right corner).  I picked the green coated ones up at Home Depot.  I also picked up some cheap 2 foot uncoated pieces at Kent for $1.69 each.

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I always use at least 4 hoops for my tunnels to keep them from collapsing, whether they are 8 feet long or 14 feet long. I slide the ends of the PVC over the rebar (at least 4 inches).

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For the Poly tunnel covering, I picked up a roll of 6mm vapour barrier (I don’t remember where I got it, I have been using the same roll for 3 years…).  I cut left over decking boards to 7 feet (my raised beds are 8 feet). I am not worried about the treatment on the wood because it will be wrapped in the vapour barrier anyways.

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I centre the boards lengthwise (the poly is folded in half here to fit in the picture – it is actually 8 feet wide, which works perfectly to cover the 6 foot hoops…)  I then recruit cute little helpers to staple the plastic to the first board.  To make sure it is secure, I staple, then roll the board once in the plastic and staple it again.  The second board is secured to the other side of the plastic in the same manner making sure the rolled edges are the same side up.

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Little hands help me carry the boards and poly cover to the garden where we unroll it over the hoops.  You can just roll or unroll the boards to tighten up the cover.  We tuck the boards down in between the hoops and the edge of the bed.  The ends are tucked in like a birthday present and held down with a rock.  On warm days, we can simply open the ends and tuck the plastic back to ventilate or unroll one side to open the tunnels completely.

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Finally, we use clips we found at the dollar store to give a little extra support, et voila!  Mini greenhouse is complete!

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For less finicky greens, and because I was completely out of patience, I hauled out a frost blanket and planted Tyee spinach, Spicy mesclun, Cos Romaine and arugula between rows of Munchkin and Packman broccoli.  I will not be defeated!!

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I have since shovelled in some compost, the soil is warming up wonderfully!  I hope to plant some of these little beauties this weekend – in my rubber boots or in my snow pants.  Either way – I win!!!

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“Even if you are on the right track, you will still get run over if you just sit there!” ~Will Rogers

Finally Filthy Fingernails

The sun is out, the glaciers are receding and I have proof of life after all of that snow!  The gardens are slowly melting and and revealing their treasures (no sign of the veggie garden yet….).  What else would I do but dig?!

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Slowly receding snow banks force me to pace myself…which is good because I hate weeding…

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The problem with not really knowing how to garden is that I don’t really know what I planted and what I should pull out…Oooops!

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Hair cuts for the Goji berries , lavender and oregano!

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Even my wee girl’s flowers came out for a coffee and some sunshine – the snow in the background makes me giggle as I sit in my short sleeves and rubber boots…

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Big hands with happy, filthy fingernails, finally!!

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Can’t wait for more life to pop!

“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails.
I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp.
I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbors children.  I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. 

I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”

~ Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Tomato-geddon begins! Little hands strike again….

“Mama!  I dropped some on the floor, so I picked them up and threw them in too!” Pause, 2, 3, 4….

“Mama!  Did you say 6 or did you really mean 14?!”  Pause 2, 3, 4…

“Mama!!  I really like purple, so I added 7 extra seeds.” Pause 2, 3, 4…

“Mama! If the seeds are a little furry, is it okay if I just plant them all?  I think there were about 18, but only 3 weren’t furry…” Pause 2, 3, 4…

“Mama!  Is it okay if I added 2 for good luck?”

These are actual quotes that I managed to write down while suppressing giggles, a few tears and trying not to panic out loud.

Yup – little hands were at it again!  “Tomato-geddon” officially began for the 2015 season on March 31st.  “6 of each kind, except the orange ones, you can plant 12 of those. But no more.”, I said.

We had carefully selected 9 varieties of tomatoes to try this year after looking through our notes, checking out the catalogues and reading reviews on our new favourite blogs.  We picked 9 types knowing full well that we would inevitably find a 10th seedling variety that we couldn’t survive the summer without at one of the greenhouses we frequent in the summer (well, okay, maybe 2 more types if we happen to black-out a little from all the excitement and the heat)…that would give us no more than 66 plants if all the seedlings made it.  My plan was for 30, max, to go into the garden, a few in big planters and a few to share.

I should have known better!

Here is how is went down…

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First we set up our starter trays – we thought it was oddly amusing to plant tomato seeds in tomato containers…

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Then Little hands filled them about 2 inches full with Pro Mix…only a bit ended up on the floor…

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She wet the soil to nice and moist with warm water…

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Then she began planting her seeds.  She planted determinate and indeterminate, both heirloom and hybrids (we need some to survive the late blight).  I had my back to her as I was washing up some other trays to plant annual flowers.  I thought I could trust her to stick with the limits!  I forgot that she was my kid!  Bahahahahaha!!!

In the end she started:

Heirlooms:

3, or maybe 18, Gold Dust

6 Mennonite (orange)

8 Alaska

8, or maybe, 20 Scotia

6 12 Sub Arctic Plenty (they fell on the floor)

6 Ha! 13 Black Plum, and maybe more…

Hybrids:

14 Sun Gold cherry – 2 for good luck, they are her favourite!

6 14 Big Beef, because 6 really does mean 14…

8 Lemon Boy, we ran out of seeds…

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Before I could get an accurate head count, they were snuggled under a fine layer of soil and spritzed oh-so-carefully…

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After they were all covered up, they got placed on the heat mats to speed up germination – which amazingly only took 3 or 4 days to start.

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One week later, here were about 92 happy little seedlings reaching up for the lights!

I feel another epic potting up party coming up this weekend.  I hope I have enough yogourt containers saved up! I love those Little hands so very much…

It is still 6 weeks until we should be able to plant tomatoes out into the garden without extra protection- there is still time to start some from seed!

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” ~Brian O’Driscoll

Community Supported…Baking

imageMy mom’s kitchen smells wonderful when she bakes. Growing up she would bake us muffins, pies, biscuits, scones and cookies that made our mouths water. Most of her recipes had some kind of delicious fruit in them, usually picked at a local berry farm or bought at a farmers market. Many of her recipes were passed down from my Grandma or the other ladies from the church who published cookbooks as fundraisers. I can’t honestly remember eating a cookie out of a bag or from a box, except maybe from a friend’s house or at the cottage as a treat. Grandma’a wild blueberry pie was famous and even now, my girls ask Santa every Christmas for blueberry pies!  My Papa made applesauce that was second to none – it was akin to pie filling in a jar, heavenly!

Ask any maritimer and I am sure they will say that sitting down with home baking, a cup of tea and a good friend to share with is as close to Heaven as we can get.

Spending time with my girls in the kitchen is one of my most “happy places”. Teaching them how to create delicious creations that have been baked in my family’s kitchens for generations makes me feel more connected to my past and gives me a sense of securing skills for their future.  As we peel, chop, stir, fold and sample, I smile as I remember doing the same with my grandparents and aunties and uncles from rural Nova Scotia. We play music in the background and we chat about our days, distractedly growing closer as mouth watering smells waft out of the oven.  Little by little, they tell me the stories I wouldn’t otherwise hear or the secrets I would likely never discover. Their little imaginations wander as they get to pick add ins and flavourings; more than once we have had competitions to create the best scone recipe – Saturday morning Scone-offs!

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Baking with the kids provides a convenient opportunity to teach them about where our food comes from and how we can look close to home for many of our ingredients. Nova Scotia is fortunate to have many small family farms, markets and Community Supported Agriculture opportunities. Although we have planted many fruit trees and berry bushes on our property, the birds and the deer tend to benefit more than we do! Because we could never grow enough of our own fruit, we joined a CSA and get a weekly fruit box of local fresh, frozen, dried and preserved fruit from a number of farms around us.  It is a surprise each week when we pick up our box (we could check the website first, but where would be the adventure in that?!).

This week before we even picked up our box we definitely had our crisper full of more apples than we could eat, so we decided to bake! Our CSA, organized by Tap Root and Noggins Farms, also offers add-ons of veggies, eggs, meats and grains, which is a nice option to have.  We are also fortunate to have a market close to us called “The Vegetorium” (isn’t that a fun name?) where we can pick up eggs, locally roasted coffee, baking supplies and lots of fresh produce all year round. It is a nice feeling to know which farms our fruit is coming from and to chat with storekeepers who know us by name and can tell us exactly where their eggs come from. If you are interested in joining a Community Supported Agriculture venture in Nova Scotia, here is a link from another Nova Scotia blog, Adventures in Local Food, with a list for 2015. Our CSA has proven a great way for us to enjoy other’s gardens even when we can’t yet enjoy our own!!

On the menu – Nana’s Apple Cake and Papa’s Applesauce

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Delicious Honeycrisp, Gala and MacIntosh apples from the weekly CSA fruit box.

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Little hands loading up the apple peeler…

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Peeling, peeling and peeling!!!

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We added dried cranberries and blueberries to the batter – also from our fruit box.

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Little hands making sure Nana’s apple cake is perfect…

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Success!!

And Papa’s applesauce was pretty amazing too…

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We add brown sugar (or honey), cinnamon and nutmeg to chopped apples and simmer on medium low until it reaches a soft and saucy consistency. We love it warm over ice cream or vanilla yogourt!

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Recipe for Nana’s Apple Cake

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 cups chopped apples

3/4 oil

2 beaten eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 1/4 cup flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 cups raisins, cranberries or dried blueberries

Combine chopped apples with sugars, oil, eggs and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and raisins or berries.  Bake in a bundt pan or 2 loaf pans for about 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Enjoy with a cup of tea!!!

” If most of us valued FOOD and CHEER and SONG above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Day Maker!

Our big girl went for a sleepover, leaving my husband and I some alone time with our wee girl this morning – a real treat for her that rarely happens.  We took her out for a special breakfast and let her order PB&J on homemade bread and jam, without crusts – the café’s “specialty”!  We played tic tac toe while we sipped our coffees and listened to her babble on endlessly about her little world and all the happenings with her little friends. She thoroughly enjoyed her spotlit pedestal!  On our way home, we passed a greenhouse that had just opened for the season and we had to stop, the snow is getting to us and the opportunity of visiting a warm, sunny nursery full of new life was more than we could pass up.  It turned out to be the highlight of her special day – the wonderful ladies let us look around the blocked off part of the greenhouse where they showed her how little plugs were transplanted, we watched a guy way up on a rolling platform fertilizing hanging baskets and she happily wandered through the rows identifying which plants she was growing herself at home.  She was very proud of herself when she discovered her Coleus plants were bigger than those at the greenhouse!

While my husband busied himself learning about pest deterrents, my wee girl told the ladies all about her flower babies and picked out a pot she wanted to buy with money she had earned cat sitting.  Megan, an absolutely lovely staff member, made her a deal that if she promised to plant one of her coleus’ in the pot and bring it back in to show her sometime that she could have the pot for free!!!  Well, that was just the icing on the cake – Little Miss had a smile on her face the whole way home!  So, Megan, here is a picture of the little plant in the pot that made one little girl’s day (we will definitely bring it in for a visit as requested)!  What a great stop – you ladies truly were her “day maker” today!

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Thank you to both of the lovely ladies at Bloom Greenhouse for being so kind to a budding gardener!

A glimpse under the grow lights – April 7th (or Survival of the fittest and vegetable infanticide…)

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Nova Scotia continues to be buried in feet, yes FEET, of white stuff. In fact, we woke up to another 5-10 cms this morning.  Usually by this time we are prepping early beds, assembling poly tunnels and seriously considering planting the early veggies outdoors under cover (peas, kale, bok choy, onions, beets, carrots, chard and spinach)…not this year. There is some hope in that the temperatures are warming up and there has been some melting but at this rate I am afraid it will be a very, very late start to the garden. Thankfully the grow lights are shining away and the early starts are doing well – the veggie babies may not have a nice dirty outdoor place to move into before they peak, but they seem happy for now.

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Potted up veggies, herbs and flowers patiently waiting under the lights until they can move outdoors.

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Columbine reaching for the light.

Many have been potted up to larger pots and some have graduated to another location with less direct light as we have started to run out of space under the lights.  My wee girl has a nice sunny window and found a little greenhouse unit that has moved into her bedroom as well for her maturing flowers(she simply had to have it…and I simply couldn’t say no…) !!

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She simply HAD to have it!! We added some lights to the bottom for a little something extra…

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A few of my Wee girl’s Coleus plants happy in the sunshine! (This is about half of them…oooops!)

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Chamomile, Impatiens and Rudbeckia – also in her greenhouse…ahem…bedroom…

We have had some casualties, sadly. This weekend, as we were potting up seedlings and starting new seeds (the 6-8 week prior crowd), we found many seedlings that had been burnt by organic seaweed fertilizer. Yup, unintentional vegetable infanticide. We had diluted the fertilizer even more than the directions had stated and waited until at least 2 sets of leaves had grown, but it was still too strong and in the end, only the strong survived….fail.  The bok choi and chard were hit the hardest, with jalapeños suffering a fair amount as well.  The cauliflower and broccoli fared somewhat better, with the strongest seedlings overcoming the weaker ones.  Survival of the fittest. And unfortunately this is the second year in a row we managed to do this…double fail.

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Damage from the fertilizer – discolouration and stunted growth. I am not sure if they will pull through. Has anyone else had this issue?

My wee girl was pretty sad and after we gave the lost seedlings a little burial in the compost bin we had a big chat about the circle of life. I never expected that gardening would lead to philosophical discussions of life, death and the afterlife, but am glad that I had the opportunity for this talk to happen over vegetables before she really has to deal with a loss of someone close. So as we continue to wait, and wait, and wait for the snow to melt, at least I can pass on a few life lessons and we can peek under the lights (instead of under frost blankets) to see what’s poking up!

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“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” ~ Rafiki (after bonking Simba on the head – probably what I deserve!