End of the Month Garden Tour – August was a BIG month!!!

Whoa!  August was a BIG month for us on many fronts.  We took a big 2 week vacation to Cape Breton with our extended family and friends and we left the garden alone to fend for itself for 2 weeks (thank you to my Mama who dropped over to pick and weigh our goodies).  Being able to spend 2 full weeks as a family, surrounded by friends, in the gorgeous outdoors and the freedom of being unplugged was a BIG blessing for us all. We had plenty of time to splash, hike, play, pick wild berries and visit many wonderful sites, including an heirloom 1744 garden tour (I posted about this the other night because it was really neat)!

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Lots of grass and weeds…

We returned to a lot of veggies waiting to be picked and a lot of BIG weeds around the plants without mulch or plastic film.  Thankfully the combination of mulch and the timer on the sprinkler worked well to keep everything healthy and happy! Before we left, we filled our picking buckets, loaded them into our truck and had plenty of fresh veggies for 2 weeks.  We were both pleased and surprised to find the entire countertop on the BIG kitchen island was covered with a great variety of garden treasures, including Kale, which we are trying very hard to learn to love…

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Big harvests before and after our vacation

We have decided to spend this year weighing and tracking the savings that come out of our garden in order to share with others some of the BIG benefits besides health and stress release that growing some of your own food can provide.  We are blessed to have enough garden space to nearly negate the need to buy produce from May until at least October and freezing/preserving allows us to enjoy our own food long after the snow flies. I would call our garden a “medium” sized garden – 46 feet by 24 feet, but certainly growing in any sized “garden” that we have had the pleasure of nurturing; from a few small pots, to multiple pots on a trailer (yup, I took my garden with me one summer when we had to move!!) right to a permastructure designed to last for years, has been extremely fulfilling. By weighing and tracking cost savings, the kids are secretly doing math and book keeping on top of learning about sustainability. That is a BIG deal for kids who openly declare their disdane for math homework. Since our minions…ahem…children have been big enough to help, they have always played in the dirt and it is so rewarding to watch them learn about their food sources, the science and art behind it and the passing of seasons and life. Now they are learning about budgets too!

The BIG part of this experiment is that this month, we were featured in MoneySense Magazine!!!  The girls were soooooooo excited to see themselves in print in a National magazine and to share with their friends!  We can’t share that link because of copyright stuff, but you could always pick up a copy or look at the online version in the “How I did it” section.

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The photoshoot was a big deal, but seeing themselves in a magazine was a way bigger deal!

On top of the magazine being published, they were also on the radio yesterday on the Weekend Gardener with Niki Jabbour, which pretty much blew their minds!  Here is the link if anyone would like to share, it is a BIG deal for our family and a pretty neat way for other kids to hear how exciting getting involved in a family garden can be!  Really. We are the 10:30 time slot, but the whole show is always great if you have time to listen.

Finally, as my husband would quote, we are “Putting up some big numbers, big numbers folks!”  I totalled up our weight and savings for August (see Picked and Planted – August 5th to 29th for more details) and we had picked over 100 pounds of produce and saved nearly $500 dollars this month alone!  That was a big shock and reaffirmed how important it is to us to grow our own.

Lastly on the BIG theme, we have set a big family eating goal for the month of September by joining the 50% Local September Club.  It is a local movement encouraging people to eat 50% local for the month. That can be 50% by weight, percentage of ingredients, purchasing etc, but it forces us to look at what we eat, where it came from and how much of a footprint it leaves.  The girls have already looked very hard at the pre-packaged granola bars when reaching for a snack and are asking some very mature questions, makes me proud.  I don’t think eating local will be a problem, you can’t get much more local than your own backyard.  I do foresee some interesting decision making at the supermarket when picking out dairy, meat and other staples that cost will play a part in.  That said, I was very pleased to see how easy it was to find products from our own province by paying a bit more attention to the labels, it is worth the extra seconds.

I think that is a BIG enough ramble for August, see you next month!  I have a big job to do planting the fall veggies and getting the frost blankets a hoop tunnels out again soon…but for now I will procrastinate reading the Garden Share Collective and the End of The Month Views posts!

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Picked and Planted – August 5th-29th

These past weeks we picked:

A whole lot of everything!!  We have had a constant supply of everything from the past month, including a reintroduction of radish from the second planting, some random lettuces and especially exciting was the addition of tomatoes and tomatillos! I love tomatoes so much, I did a special post just on them…yup, love ’em!

August was a big month – we picked a lot, we saved a lot, we jammed and baked a lot while on vacation and since being home, we have frozen a lot.  My hubby is thoroughly enjoying the quote ” We are putting up some big numbers, big numbers…” I can’t argue!

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Onions

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Herbs and garlic

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All sorts of colourful carrots – no better way to get little ones to eat veggies than to let them pick out their favourite colours and plant them!

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Carrots are not the only the only veggies that come in multi-colour!  We have been picking green, yellow, pink, purple and speckled beans in all shapes and sizes.

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Magically, rhubarb has continued to produce in the shade.  We froze 16 cups so far for the winter.

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Apples are almost ripe – we picked 5 pounds in advance of the deer, hopefully we didn’t pick them too early…

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Our favourite root veggie – beets!  So delicious steamed or roasted.

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And what good are tomatoes and basil without cucumbers for greek salad?

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And not to be forgotten…TOMATOES!!!!

WOW!  What a month!!!

Approx savings compared to local market: 495.89!!

Total since May 26th – $1118.46

Total weight picked this period: 103.31 pounds!!  That is more than my 12 year old – our minds are blown!

Total to date: 232.59 pounds

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This was our first massive picking before we left on vacation – the picking buckets get loaded into the truck with everything else so we don’t have to go to the store during our holidays.

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This was our second big picking after holidays for the freezer and storage!

A few notes – 1. Prices are calculated by comparing to the price of non-organic, (local when possible) produce at the local grocery store that we stop at the most.  We usually buy our produce (when our hand is forced) at a local veggie market that is mostly organic and spray free, but tends to be more expensive and has less selection.  We chose to compare to the supermarket as it was more reflective of what most people would buy and what I could quickly take a picture of with my camera when grabbing the weekly essentials without an extra trip. If I cannot find what we grew (market turnip, tomatillos etc.), I will call the specialty market in Halifax for their prices. These costs do not factor in the price of what the produce becomes (jams, pies, baking, salsa, pickles etc.), simply the raw food we pick. I suspect our savings would be almost double if we compared to organic or final products!

2. Since May 26th, we have purchased 2 pounds of tomatoes, 6 cucumbers, 1 bag of potatoes, 8 bunches of bananas, 3 watermelons and 1 pineapple. Everything else has come from our garden or our weekly fruit share from Tap Root/Noggins CSA.  Not bad, if I do say so myself!!!

3. We record everything by hand after weighing our picking buckets with a digital fish scale.  The kids are getting to be very good little book keepers!  We are not separating by variety of tomato, bean, kale etc. but we are separating by type of veggie.  Maybe next year…

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My wee book keeper.

These past weeks we planted:

Zippo.  Vacation and work got the best of us!  That said, we finally pulled out the peas today and made space for all the fall greens we hope to plant tomorrow and later this week. Stay tuned!

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(Taken right after we got home – in desperate need of a mow and a lot of weeding!)

Gardening in 1744?

While on vacation in Cape Breton, we visited the Fortress of Louisbourg.  This beautiful National Historic Site depicts life as it was in 1744, just before this French Fortress fell to the British.  It is full of adventure, phenomenal animators and is true to the period in every way it can be.

As a child, I spent many summers as part of the children’s animation program, spending many summer days with my cousins in long woolen skirts, bonnets and aprons learning all about the rigours, challenges and successes of life hundreds of years ago.  We sang, we danced, we made up little stories and pulled the wool over many a tourists eyes!   We also learned many skills; lace making, sewing, instruments, fishing with line and hook and bouquet making with the many wild flowers and those we could steal from the many gardens! It was not a typical summer camp, but we loved it and my oldest daughter has taken part a few summers as well.

In an effort to revitalize the tourism and attract more visitors, the Fortress has added many new items to their list of attractions and tours.  This summer saw the addition of a rum tour and sale of rum aged in barrels on site (yes, it was amazing!), a Murder Mystery after hours within the walls of the Fortress and white glove tours that allow tourists to touch actual artifacts found on site by archeologists.  The most interesting to me was the Healing Gardener tour.

It took us through a typical kitchen potager styled in the way of the area and planted with heirloom seeds that would have been grown in 1744.  The French built their gardens in a very ordered and disciplined manner, making use of as much space as possible.  Raised beds and tall fences were used to block wind and salt, heat up the soil quicker and create warm micro climates next to the fierce ocean.  The primary vegetables were root vegetables and legumes that could be stored into the winter  Tomatoes and potatoes were nowhere to be seen – they were not yet in style at the time.  In fact, tomatoes were still believed to be poison!

The second garden we toured was a middle to upper class garden at the Engineer’s home.  The principles were similar, but it was very obvious they would have had more space to waste; the aisles were wider for hoop skirts, there were many more ornamental flowers and even a sundial in the middle.

To maintain order, discipline and symmetry, everything was mirrored, fertilized with compost and seaweed and crop rotated to maintain the health of the soil.  Specific edge plants, such as chives, were planted to deter insects and pests – perhaps I need a chive border! Around the outside of the kitchen gardens were herbs and perennial medicinal plants. This is the part I found most interesting.  There were herbs ranging from Valerian for sleep, Calendula as a beauty cream and Angelica as a candy.  Any aliment that was known had an herb to treat it in that era.

The highlight of the tour, besides our guide Lee, was a small book that we were all given outlining the plants in the garden and their uses.  I have certainly added a few must haves to my list for next year!

This beautiful site has always been on my “Must See” list, but the extra tours and special touches give that little extra something.  The split pea soup and meat pie in the tavern are nothing to sneeze at either!

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ~ Michael Crichton

Tomato Time!!

We have been away for a glorious 2 weeks of sun, sand, sailing, hiking, playing, splashing and NO TV or INTERNET in beautiful Cape Breton!!  Other than Wifi in the odd restaurant and the radio, we have been unplugged and oblivious.

And we loved it.  Even the kids – we borrowed 2 extra kids to keep ours entertained and they didn’t even seem to notice how disconnected we were in the “stiff tents” that we lovingly escape to with our extended family every summer. For the first time in a long time, we all came home sun kissed, rested and fulfilled.

Thankfully while we were away, my mother came over to tend the garden, picking what was ready and diligently keeping our weight records for us – I have a lot of work ahead of me tallying for August – but that will have to wait because….WE HAVE RIPE TOMATOES!!!

And I am a tomato junkie of the highest degree, as are my girls.  As I write I am eating a bowl full of beautiful fresh ‘maters with basil, cukes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, oh my, my, my….yum!

This gallery contains pictures from throughout the summer of various planting methods that we are experimenting with.  We don’t have great luck with big tomato yields because we live on a windy hill and are susceptible to blight.  We are trying containers, big and small, on the raised deck and the lower patio, raised beds, rows with red film, interplanting with black film and with different herbs and flowers.

Results to date:

Planters: Early on, the plants in the planters on the deck took off but over time they have been hit worse by the wind and lack of moisture.  They are still producing in the big planters though slower than in the garden proper but the smaller planters have succumbed despite extra epsom salts, persistent watering when required and suckering off sick leaves.  I think the extremely hot days and cold nights have hurt them.

Red Plastic:  First of all, this stuff does not block weeds – it lets the sun in and the weeds simply grow up underneath the plastic.  Initially the slowest method, these plants seem to be have the most fruit and least amount of foliage.

Black Plastic: By far the best weed blocker and maintains moisture the most evenly.  There is a more proportional ratio of leaves to fruit than with the planters, but to date we have not picked any ripe fruit from them.  This could be because we planted a later variety but they are definitely behind the same variety in the red film bed.

Raised beds: These are the largest, healthiest plants.  They took the longest to form fruit, but have not struggled as bad during wet spells and as long as they have been watered (more often than in the rows), they have not been bothered by the heat either.

There is no clear winner yet between the red and black film or the raised beds, but planters on the raised deck have been voted out of practice next year.  We will keep a few on the lower, more sheltered patio because they are very convenient, but they will only be placed in larger planters. Time will tell!

The Stars:

Here are a few photos taken by the girls of our treasures – hands down taste favourite is the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes – no competition… second place so far goes to Mennonite, followed by Gold Dust, Alaska and then Scotia.  We are waiting for Subarctic Plenty, Black Plum, Big Beef and Lemon Boy to ripen up to compare. What are your favourites?

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The winner – Sun Gold!!

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Runner Up to date – Menonnite

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From top right to bottom left: Menonnite, Gold Dust, Scotia, Alaska, Black Plum (not ripe – wee hands picked by accident…), Sun Gold.

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Tonight’s “snack”!!! Stay tuned – we are just getting started on the Tomato-Geddin’ fallout!

 “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” ~ Miles Kingston

Picked and Planted – July 24 – Aug 3

This week we picked:

Snap peas, snow peas – still by the bucket full every two days!

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Raspberries and blueberries – we have picked a box of raspberries almost every day, so good for breakfast in yogourt.

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Our first bush beans – these are “Tanya’s Pink Pod” from Annapolis Seed, picked especially from my wee girl’s bed.

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Scarlett Runner and Purple Fortilluto Pole beans

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Carrots!!!  Many are still small, but oh….so….tasty!!!

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Zucchini, zucchini and MORE zucchini – Sun stripe and Black Beauty are doing amazingly well this year;  starting them under black film and 6mm hoops agreed with them!  I have some plants that are 5 feet tall – yesterday we picked 14 in one day…lots of baking for us.  I grate 2 cup bags for the freezer for winter as well using it in almost everything I can hide it in.  We love zucchini sautéed, as noodles, stuffed with lasagne fixings, baked with cheeses and in dumped in soups. But nothing makes chocolate cake more moist than this awesome veggie!

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I pulled our overwintered curly kale and am letting the pods dry out to collect the seeds.  We also pulled the lettuce that we let go to seed.  Tonight we clipped the pods and put them in a paper bag in the furnace room to finish drying out.  There should be enough seeds to never, ever, ever have to buy them again!!!

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Finally, we picked radish (round 2), broccoli (the big one of 2 heads the ground hog did not destroy…), kale, onion, a few rogue scapes, swiss chard and many fresh herbs including basil, chives, thyme, oregano, sage, cilantro and dill.  Soon these will have to be dried or frozen for winter.

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Approx savings compared to local market: $136.01

Total weight picked this week: 41.74 pounds – yup, zucchini weigh a lot!!

This week we planted:

After pulling the remaining lettuce and decimated broccoli, we planted a few more bush beans, carrots and beets for the fall.  We are taking summer vacation for a few weeks, so there will be a planting hiatus after which the fall harvest planting will start in ernest.  Hopefully we get some tomatoes and cucumbers soon!!

Wishing you all a beautiful sunny week!  Here are a few pictures of our beautiful ocean this past weekend – my girls were away so I borrowed my Dad’s car and my fur baby and I went on an adventure in search of a great beach. It was simply too hot to garden!!

“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing and the lawn mower is broken!” ~ James Dent