Garden Report 3

I’ve let a little too much time pass between reports — but I got behind on the weeding and busy with spring chores and social engagements.
But, without further ado, here’s where we’re at.

Asparagus ferns.

The asparagus plot is doing nicely. Each crown sent up a few slender stalks that turned to wispy ferns. Its location at the east of our vegetable garden and back of our lot is perhaps a little less than perfect. Keeping the weed seeds that blow in from the no-man’s land behind our property from taking over is an ongoing challenge.

Pak choi.

My greens – particularly the pak choi and to a lesser extent the Swiss chard – were hard hit by an invasion of flea beetles. I searched the web for eco-friendly solutions – one suggested planting pak choi as a diversion crop since it’s practically irresistible to the tiny jumping bug. But I want to eat it. So I used an old all-purpose standby – a mixture of onion, garlic, hot sauce, dish soap and water. It seems to me making a difference, but I’m afraid much of the pak choi could not be saved.

Early early girl tomato.

Everything else is growing like mad. All the seeds – carrots, parsnips, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, cucumber and pumpkins – have sprouted. The tomatoes are starting to bloom and I see a few green fruit on the early girls. Same goes for the Thai chile and jalapeno peppers. My garlic is just beginning to produce scapes.

As long as I can manage any further pest infestations and keep up with the watering the long, hot summer this is shaping up to be will require, it should be a good harvest.

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Garden report: Part 1

Tilling the vegetable garden.

Over the past two weeks, I planted my cold weather crops.
First, I had to harvest the last of last season’s parsnips, which we enjoyed tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted alongside some carrots.
On April 14, David rented a tiller from a local shop and, I say without hyperbole, it was the best $20 we ever spent. In two hours, he had tilled the entire garden, incorporating some of the decomposing leaves we applied in the fall into the soil (the rest went into the compost heap) and leaving lovely, loose dirt at least 30 centimetres deep, ready for planting.
I sowed seeds the next day: two rows of harris model parsnips, three rows of organic scarlet nantes carrots, two rows of organic rainbow swiss chard (with a bit of leftover standard green mixed in), a row of pak choi and a row of baby leaf blend organic lettuce. The greens are already sprouting.

Red and green lettuce is beginning to sprout.

In my herb garden, I sowed some curly parsley seeds I harvested off a second year plant (parsley is biennial) last fall.
I also dug trenches in anticipation of the giant jersey asparagus roots I ordered from Vesey’s. Growing this vegetable is an exercise in patience; I’m not expecting a real harvest until 2014. But I could not resist the appeal of a perennial edible that is ready to eat in May.

Young leeks.

April 21, during at an impromptu stop at Joe’s Market for some local honey, I bought three small pots of leeks and a large rosemary plant. This year, I may keep the rosemary in a pot and bring it in during the winter. But a row of leeks was planted in a shallow trench the next day. (The whites of leeks are created by covering the bottoms with soil as they grow.) I love leeks in soups, grain dishes and pastas (including David’s favourite mac ‘n’ cheese, which also features pancetta, gruyere and blue cheese). After reading in Lois Hole’s Favourite Vegetables that you can dig them up whole (with a shovel or two of soil) and store them in a box somewhere cool like the garage to eat all winter, I knew I had to give growing them a try.
Yesterday (April 24), the asparagus crowns arrived in the mail. I planted them in my pre-dug trenches this evening.

This year’s harvest has already begun, albeit very slowly, with herbs: A few chives in a lemon chive mayo for a piece of grilled pickerel; several sprigs of thyme in a potato onion soup; lots of cilantro (self-seeded) to balance the pickled onions in fish tacos.
To my surprise, a lone kale plant survived the winter and should soon have sprouted enough leaves to add to a vegetable soup.

The last stalk

I picked the last of your Swiss chard on Sunday afternoon. I sautéed it simply with olive oil and a couple cloves of sliced garlic for dinner. It was a perfect accompaniment to roast pork loin with a mustard-peppercorn crust and apple cider sauce and puree of butternut squash and apple.
I also cut the kale and froze the leaves for a future soup.
And I dug up our first parsnips of the season for a thick turkey stew on Monday.
With a pitchfork stuck at the end of parsnip rows (we’ll need the visual reminder once the snow arrives) and brown leaves covering the now bare soil, the garden is ready for winter.

The last of the Swiss chard, ready for the saute pan.

No edamame for me

I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for so little reward in the vegetable garden than I did this season with edamame (immature soybeans).
I love these nutty little beans for snacking and in salads, and usually pick up a bag or two in the frozen food section whenever we visit J-Town. I’ve had varied luck finding the beans in the shell (the only way I’ll buy them) at grocery stores. I’ve never seen them fresh locally. So, naturally, I thought, why not grow my own.
I was so excited to find a Canadian source for seeds, McFayden Seed Company, and thrilled that the company was able to fill my order not once but twice (I’ll get to that) this spring despite losing time and stock to the severe flooding in Manitoba.

Edamame seeds ready for (the first) planting.

The beans from first package I planted without soaking or treating, dry in the ground, like I do bush beans. When only a few sprouts appeared, I did a little digging around. The well-spaced holes in the soil were a dead giveaway — some critter also enjoyed snacking on edamame.
But I persevered. I ordered a second package and sprouted the seeds on damp paper towel before planting. Within a few days, I had shoots. A few days later, I had stubs.
I applied a mixture of dish soap, cayenne, garlic, onion and water, which works to deter rabbits from eating the Swiss chard. But, to paraphrase a lament I read on another website, edamame is like candy to rodents.
In the end, the only plants to (barely) survive were the ones planted very close to the green beans, which must have somehow masked their scent. And they were stunted — probably because they were practically smothered by the bean plants. Perhaps next year I will try alternating edamame and bean plants to see if that will fool the critters — if I think I can handle the heartbreak.
Has anyone out there had success growing edamame in their garden? What is your secret?

Why plant carrots?

Freshly dug scarlet nantes carrots.

I live in the carrot capital of Ontario. The town a few minutes to the north of us hosts a yearly carrot festival. Carrots fill many of the fields that surround our community.
And when it comes to locally grown, I can buy carrots grown and picked within 20 kilometres of home at $2 or less a bag from the local grocery nine or 10 months of the year.
And yet, I still plant a few rows in my garden every year.
Why? Mostly for the taste. For the past few years, I have been buying scarlet nantes heirloom seeds from Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds in Palmerston. A reliable crop even in heavy soil, the carrots are sweet, bright orange and only slightly tapered.
I plant them thickly in April and thin to about 5 cm apart when the tops are 10 cm tall. I start to harvest in July, when they are still babies, picking alternate carrots to give those staying behind more room to grow. We eat most of them raw — packed in lunches and shredded in salads. But, as the weather gets colder and the carrots bigger, I dice and slice them for soups and grate them for pasta sauces or muffins.
I pick as needed until the threat of a heavy frost. (Carrots will tolerate light frost.)
Carrots can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks or packed in slightly damp sand in a cool spot like the garage for months.