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.

image

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?!

 

 

 

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…

image image

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

image image

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!

image

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:

image image

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.

image image

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.

image image

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).

image image

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.

image image image

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.

image image

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.

image image

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

image

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!!

image

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!!!

image

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

Nova Scotia Treasures

IMG_3107Buried treasure, shipwrecks, legends of smuggling and piracy fascinate my family, young and old. Growing up in Atlantic Canada provided so many opportunities to become engrossed in tales of lore.  On the South Shore is Oak Island, a small, mysterious isle where treasure hunters have been trying since 1795 to unearth what could be one of the biggest troves, ever!  6 people have died trying, millions have been supposedly spent on excavating and countless hours have been spent dreaming about what could be buried hundreds of feet underground in booby trapped vaults! My big girl’s voracious appetite for theories and speculations cannot get enough of Templar intrigue and Capt. Kidd rumblings.

Cape Breton’s natural beauty is booty enough for me, but for treasure hunters the call of hundreds of shipwrecks cannot be quelled.  In 1965, wreck hunter Alex Storm and his crew brought up gold and silver from the treasure ship, Le Chameau. It was rumoured to be worth almost a million dollars, but given a political scandal and settlement, no one knows for sure!  Another Cape Breton legend holds that the Louisbourg treasure, mysteriously missing following the siege of 1758, contained the annual gold and silver payroll of the French colonies, priceless relics and religious artifacts.  It has never been recovered, nor its resting site located…some think it is hidden on a small island in a lake off Mira Bay that was once an estuary, safe from the invading British forces and blockade.

As a kid, my Papa would take us on boat rides looking for the island and the booty. If the motor was out of commission, he would resort to rowing us, dory style, on our epic hunts. Now that my Dad is the Papa, the legend of the Louisbourg treasure and the traditional excursions to “Treasure Island” continues to have deep roots in our family. Annual trips still elicit squeals of delight from my little buccaneers, curious cousins and any little scallywags who visit!  Of course I can’t share the name of the lake, that would break the treasure hunter’s solemn code.

Maritimers are blessed with other treasures as well! Though my girls don’t find my adimageventures seeking out new garden markets to visit, farms to explore on Open Farm Day, or digging for buried treasure in our potato plot nearly as mystical, they indulge (read: put up with) me!  We hide our treasures throughout the house for the winter. In the garage we store root veggies, pumpkins, squash for a mid-winter homegrown pot of soup, rich as any king. In the windows, we hang herbs as decorations to dry and enjoy warm, aromatic teas all winter.  My little one loves delivering her prized mint next door on a regular basis!  The pantry is full of jars of pickles, beets and salsa. We freeze and puree and jelly. We even keep a few greens growing under the lights! There is no greater gold to me than that of sparkling crab apple jelly on a hot biscuit after a great day of skiing!

Lastimage fall, I tried to “overwinter” some cold hardy root veggies and kale in a secret spot in the garden.  Sadly, the strong North east winds and sly deer who share our inclination for treasure hunting had other plans.  They found them. My PVC hoop tunnels and frost blankets were no match for them; somewhere a very content deer is gloating over his victory in securing my garden’s plunders. Next year I will have to reinforce my tunnels with better support, stronger plastic, bigger rocks and more insulation. Lesson learned!  The only thing they left alone were my leeks and a few rogue kale, both of which are quite a treat to dig out from under the protection of the snow in the middle of January.

My big girl (staff photographer) thought it would be fun to share a bit of our winter treasures by taking pictures of a yummy winter soup we made on a blustery day and providing a “treasure map” of how we made it.  It is not exactly a recipe because I tend to measure by tasting! image First she roasted pie pumpkin, acorn squash and butternut squash with garlic hidden under the cored out centres. Next the last of our stash of potatoes were chopped and sautéed with fresh picked leeks, dried sage, thyme, chilis and chives. By accident I added nutmeg instead of pepper – I told you I was easily distracted!  I get that from my Grandma. image Chicken stock was added to the potatoes and leeks to simmer while the squash cooled and sweat under foil, making them easier to peel.  Once cooled and peeled, the were blendered with the roasted garlic and added to the soup. image We added some fresh cilantro, easily grown in windowsill pots, for a little something extra!image Though we may never actually uncover the Louisbourg treasure, I hope my girls will never lose their innocent sense of wonder and adventure. In time, they may even come to treasure all the spoils this beautiful province has to offer, especially those from our own back yard. Who knows, maybe one day they will take their own kids hunting for buried treasure, even if it is only potatoes.

When planning our garden for the year, we try to think about what we will grow to store for the winter, here are our thoughts..

Things we grow to store: Pie Pumpkin, Acorn squash, Butternut squash, Cheiftan and Norland potatoes, carrots, onions

To freeze: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, Haskap berries, beans, shell peas, beets and greens, Swiss chard, basil, dill

To can: Salsa, berries for jam, jalapeños for pepper jellies, beets and pickling cucumbers

To dry: Mint, oregano, sage, thyme, chives, tarragon, savoury, rosemary, I would like to try chamomile this year!

To tunnel: Beets, carrots, leeks, kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, mustard, parsley, mizuna

Under the lights:  Mesclun, romaine, cilantro, basil, arugula

Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.” – Napoleon Bonaparte