The flurries have begun and the 2015 garden $$ totals are in…Picked (but not so much planted) Sept 22nd – Nov 18th

The garden is tucked in for the impending winter season.  Will it be soft, gentle, fluffy and peaceful or a raging onslaught of freezing rain, blizzards and hurricane speed winds?  In Nova Scotia one never knows.  I have been holding off on doing the final tally of what we picked, weighed and calculated this season thinking that we would have stopped bringing in a regular harvest long before now.  But blessings be acknowledged, the girls continued to haul in buckets of treasures up until last weekend!  We did have to buy some tender veggies and extra salad greens from the market last week – the first real time since June!!  There are still beets, carrots, kale, chard, leeks, onions and mixed greens tucked under hoop tunnels and snuggled under frost blankets for special treats between now and full freeze up, but I think it is safe to say that the majority of our harvest is now in! We had our first flurry today, winter is unavoidable.

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When we began asking ourselves how much we could be saving in produce, we never expected that the totals would be so high.  We also never anticipated the volume of veggies that we could actually consume as a family of four during 1 season, nor how much we would be able to freeze and jar to extend our feasting. And we certainly didn’t even stop to think about how much fun it would be to weigh, track and tally our bounty – who knew kids could get so excited about book keeping?!

 

In the end it is safe to say that this experience has been far more worthwhile to us than any actual $$ total.  It has taught us to be less wasteful by ensuring we consumed what we picked, less picky because even ugly cucumbers taste great and save us money and to be even more grateful for our ability to “shop” for dinner right in our own backyard.  It is amazing how much more we appreciated our own produce when we compared what the weekly prices were in the market for what the kids simply pulled out of the (non-chemically treated, clean earth, worm filled and flower kissed) dirt. Dirt is amazing!  And seeds, well they are just mind blowing. Really.

 

So without further adieu…..drumroll please…..the totals for Sept 22- Nov 18th of our 2015 season are:

Approx savings compared to local market: $972.75!!!!

Total since May 26th – $2355.45 WOW!!!

Total weight picked this period: 136.09 pounds!!  That is almost as much as I weigh….

Total to date: 341.15 pounds (That is a lot of veggies!!!)

These totals are compared to local produce when possible but not specifically organic produce – we would prefer to eat local than purchase organic food that has had to travel very long distances, using wasteful packaging and not being allowed to ripen to perfect.  We do use organic methods in our own garden, so the estimated savings would likely be much more significant had we compared to local AND organic produce!  Not to mention the savings in jams, jellies, spreads, sauces, salsas, dried and frozen herbs, saved seeds, compost, cut flowers…you get the picture!

 

Dollars and cents may speak to some, time outdoors and exercise to others, quality conversations and relationship building to most…how do we put a price on the value of our family garden?!

 

 

 

Kitty’s Presto Pesto Pasta

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6 POUNDS OF BASIL!!!

What on earth do we do with 6 pounds of beautiful basil?  We knew we had a great crop this year – we have been picking and enjoying fresh basil seemingly without end since July, but we were not expecting to harvest 6 pounds when frost threatened!!  Thankfully we LOVE basil and it freezes really well for the winter.

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Not only do we love to eat basil, it helps us in our battle against weeds.  Battle against weeds you ask?  YOU BET!  We sprinkle basil seeds around the bases of freshly planted tomato and pepper plants and as they grow, they create a lovely, tasty, fragrant weed barrier – bonus score!  We planted 3 varieties this year – Genovese, Sweet and Opal (purple) basil. They taste similar and I cannot honestly say I prefer one to the other.

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Even the bees love basil!!

Soooo….what to do with all of this green gold (literally – 2 ounces of fresh basil was $2.49 at the market this week….)?  My wee girl and I set to work and we spent the morning blending, pesto-ing and cooking!  The house smelled amazing and our bellies were full and happy – as is the freezer.

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We began by pulling the leaves off the stems…

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This is the square footage 6 pounds of basil covers!! But it packs down pretty tight.

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For simple freezing, we added 10 cups of leaves and 1 cup of olive oil to the blender.  I don’t have nearly enough ice cube trays, so once blender-ed to “smizereens”, we spread it over plastic plates, covered them and popped them in the freezer. Once frozen, I pull them off the plates, cut into chunks and store in freezer bags to pull out and add to sauces and salad dressings all winter.

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And of course, we made pesto!!

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Our recipe that we like to use is:

8 cloves of garlic

1 cup of pine nuts

4 cups of packed basil leaves

1 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup of grated fresh parmesan

Salt and pepper

Presto! Once blended, we freeze this as well on plastic trays – I am hesitant to jar pesto for long term storage given the risks of botulism with garlic but we do keep a few in the fridge.

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So with all the work done, my wee girl’s belly was grumbling, a perfect excuse to make fresh pasta to serve with our pesto and some tomatoes picked that morning!

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For the homemade pasta we mix 3 1/2 cups of flour with 3 fresh eggs, 1 cup of local wine and 3 cloves of pressed garlic.  Kneading the dough with an extra 1/2 – 1 cup of flour until it is no longer sticky is key – and fun for little hands!

Once the dough is set, we cut off small chunks, dust them with flour and run them through the pasta mill – first through the pasta sheet side, then through the fettucini noodle attachment. The noodles are spread on cloth until they firm up a bit – about 30 minutes. Boil in salted water for roughly 5 minutes until cooked to the right texture. Once drained, we toss them with the fresh pesto and chopped tomatoes.  My hubby the “meat-a-tarian” added some local sausage to his before we sprinkled the plates with more grated parmesan.  And of course, we always have to sip some paired wine (grape juice for Kitty…) and belt out Andrea Bocelli for full Italian effect while eating (feel free to have a listen and a sing-along with us!)

The finished product – Kitty’s Presto Pesto Pasta!  Mama Mia, delizioso!

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What do you do with your beautiful basil?

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Hehehe, this made me giggle!

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End of the month photo garden tour – September

I know we are well into October now, but I thought I would still share the end of the month pictures from the September garden before a large portion of it got harvested for storing!  Shorthly after these pictures were taken we pulled roughly 50 pounds of potatoes, 25 more pounds of tomatoes, 6 pounds of basil (more in another post on that haul!!!) and 15 pounds of beans before the frost threatened!  Most of what remains now is cold hardy and can left for a few more weeks.

My fall green plantings have sadly been ravaged by slugs and we have had to replant the winter greens, asian greens and spinach again in planters on the deck, fingers crossed we get a decent pile of greens for fall salads!

The fall radish and market turnip crop are doing very well and should be ready to pick and enjoy in the next week – it is amazing how hardy these cool season veggies can be.  With a little straw and some hoop tunnels over top as the frost sets, we should be able to pick carrots, beets, kale, chard and onions until well into December.  Bring on the cool weather, we are ready!!

Picked and Planted – Sept 1st – 21st

These past weeks we picked:

September has been a lovely month in Nova Scotia.  It has been very warm, even hot on quite a few days – this weekend reached over 30 degrees. We have had some good rains and cooler nights but thankfully no frost or hurricanes. The garden has continued to thrive, allowing us to pick a great volume of vegetables for the freezer and the salsa production line!  I will admit that we have not been out picking as much as we could be with the start of school, sports and the end of vacation, but we are still not paying  for produce…though I will admit that I picked up come gorgeous butternut squash from a farmer’s driveway when we were in the Annapolis Valley blueberry picking, I simply couldn’t help myself – it is so fun putting coins in a jar and picking out fresh treasures with the farmer trusting you completely to pay for what you take!

Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and herbs have been the big hitters, but we have also picked a lot of kale, chard, zucchini, onions, leeks, celery and beets.  We also started picking eggplant and jalapeño peppers! Squash should be ready for harvesting by next week and the new fall crops of greens and radish will be close behind. Fingers crossed we will be hauling in freshness for at least another month!

Approx savings compared to local market: 264.24

Total since May 26th – $1382.70.46

Total weight picked this period: 72.45 pounds!!  That is more than my 8 year old – our minds are blown again!

Total to date: 305.04 pounds

This month we planted:

Fall greens – Bok Choy, Spinach, mixed salad greens and beet greens

Market turnip (30 days!!)

Cherry Belle radish – 4th planting of the season!

I covered the seedlings with frost blankets to keep the soil moist and to help fend off the birds and slugs. So far the battle with the slugs has been awful!

“Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.” ~ Unknown

EPIC Tomato Identification Error! HELP!!

We have discovered an epic error in tomato identification during our tomato taste-off….

Back in the early Spring when little hands were seeding they were very careful to label each seed tray (even if she did plant faaaaaaar too many seeds).

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These little hands wrote out over 100 little tags so each tomato seedling would have a name under the lights.

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Each little tag got placed very carefully next to the plants for whom they had been so carefully made.

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Yet SOMEHOW during our Taste-off, we misidentified one of our favourites.  The second place finalist to be specific.  Each plant in the garden bearing this fruit had the same tag on it leading us to believe that either the seed tray had been tagged in error (that could not have possibly happened with a seven year old running the show, could it?!) OR the seed packet had the wrong type of seed in it. That had to be it, surely…

We realized the mistake just the other day when we researching whether “Mennonite” tomatoes were open pollinated so that we could save some seed from it.  It turns out that “Mennonite” is actually called “Mennonite Orange”. OOPS.  We dug through the old packets and sure enough, the envelope and Incredible Seeds website clearly states, “The Mennonite Orange Heirloom Tomato is most certainly one of the top slicer tomatoes! This large, bright orange tomato is very pretty inside & out with even colour through the skin & flesh. Mennonite Orange is very juicy, very flavourful & so sweet its almost fruity. Super! Another fave! 4-5’ plants require support.” I bet it is….but I wouldn’t know!

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Our “Mennonite” tomatoes are not orange.  At all.  So in fairness and open honesty – our second place winner in the 2015 Tomato Taste Off goes to….NOT A CLUE!!!

Does anyone know what type of tomato this may be?  We are going to save some seeds and keep our fingers crossed, because whatever it is, it is Yummy!!

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“If confusion is the first step towards knowledge, I must be a genius!” ~ Larry Leissner

Tomato Taste-off!

The big day has finally arrived!  All 9 varieties of tomatoes that we specifically selected, started from seed under lights, nurtured, rescued from snapped stems and gave away when over 100 grew into viable plants had fruit ripen all on the same morning! We have had a great tomato season, full of fun growing experiments and incidents with little hands seeding far more plants than necessary. Now the time has arrived to post the results of the main event – the tomato taste off!!! Drumroll please…..

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Round 1 Results

The Red Guys: Scotia, followed by Subarctic and finally Big Beef. This was a close round with the winner being debatable to the point of Rock, Scissors Paper…actually Scotia won in a 2-2 tie, but since both kids preferred the provincial namesake, it won round 1.

Round 2 Results

The colourful guys: In first place we had Lemon Boy, followed closely by Gold Dust. Sadly Black Plum was a very distant 3rd place and was in fact last overall. I am hoping Black Plum will redeem itself when I make sauce with them because they have been left behind in the fresh eating department.

Round 3 Results

The other fellas: Sun Gold was so far ahead in this heat that it won a buy to the gold medal position. Hands down. Second place, which would have actually been better suited in the red category, was Menonnite. This was my personal favourite red tomato this year; oddly enough, they were terrible last year. Finally in this category was the little heirloom, Alaska.

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The Final Results

Gold: Living up to it’s name – Sun Gold!!

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Silver: Menonnite – the top red!

Bronze: Lemon Boy, but definitely one of the prettiest varieties

Runner Up: Scotia, you make our province proud!

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Judging by the left overs they were all winners!! What should we try next year?!

“It is difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts when eating a homegrown tomato!” ~ Lewis Grizzard

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!

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!)

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