Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gardens Update: 3 of 7

I started out with a plan when I was planning my seven garden spaces. It was logical, as plans are. It took into account harvesting times, water needs, and companion planting. I have no idea what it is. I seem to have just planted "things I like" in each of the seven. But they're thriving!

This is at my friend Sarah's. We each have half of her garden. The onions love that clay soil! The peppers, on the other hand, haven't grown since I put them in 1.5 months ago. I'm pretty sure you can't even see them in the photo.

This one is at my cousin's house. Three 100 sq ft beds, 4 ft wide. I was going to try square foot gardening, but rows are ingrained in me.

There is actually some reasoning behind crop selection in this last one. It is on a friend's acreage, 30 minutes away, so I planted potatoes, winter squash, and dry beans. This photo is pre-weeding.

I should be learning a lot from growing things in different soils (clay predominates in the city, sand at my cousin's, and lovely manure at the acreage) and planting at different times, and battling different weeds... but my record-keeping is so poor that this is nowhere near a scientific study. Maybe my goal this year can be not collapsing under the harvest weight.

Four more to follow!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vincent's Sweets: A Baking Experiment

Vincent has asked me a few times if he can bake cookies - from his own recipe that he makes up. I haven't wanted to let him because I have a miser's abhorrence of waste, and given his limited culinary knowledge, I anticipated having to throw out the mess of inedible ingredients post-baking.

That's probably not a good reason to quell curiosity and experimentation. The other day, I decided to let him try, with the caveat that he make a small batch. Here's how it went:

Vincent's Peanut Butter Chip Banana Cookies with commentary and handy tips from V

In the wet bowl:
1 egg (whisk)
1/8 cup oil ("hold the cup upside down a little bit; oil takes a while to come out"
1/8 cup milk
1 banana (he asks me to slice; he then smashes with the whisk)

V: Why don't we make a recipe store here if my cookies turn out good?

In the dry bowl:
1 tsp flour ("No, 1/2 a cup! Maybe two of them")
1 cup flour
1 tsp sugar (for next time, he suggests a tablespoon)
1 tsp salt (I said no to this amount)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

V: Shouldn't we write what they taste like? They taste like artificial banana flavouring with cookie dough and a little bit of sugar.

In sum:
V: I'm proud. I enjoyed making them, but I'm not going to enjoy the dishes.

I was very impressed that he'd remembered to separate wet and dry ingredients and had remembered all of the major components to most baked goods. He also chose fairly accurate measuring cup and spoon sizes for the ingredients. The cookies tasted a bit biscuit-like but definitely edible. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

In which we travel in time to the 1950s.

Can you read this? It was taken from a moving car again, as billboards in our city tend not to be in places where people walk.

I'll read it for you. Let me put on my horn-rimmed glasses first and help myself to one of those cocktail franks - thanks, Doris.

"Food powers mankind [sic]. But what powers food?"

Potash, my friends. Potash, the gasoline in our corporeal Studebakers. Potash helps nature provide. That floozy Nature, who will be made to fully submit to the rigorous standards of Science and Technology! That's true power, friends! The power of Mankind!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old MacDonald's Hens

As urban folk are further isolated from the countryside where the majority of the food is produced, the stereotype about Old-MacDonald type small family farms lives on. Who doesn't get warm fuzzies when contemplating a red barn full of hay with a rope swing in the loft, and happy cows contentedly chewing cud?

Courtesy of the CCA

McDonalds is all over that. Localism, nostalgia, patriotism - this burger has it all.

Saskatchewan farmers have also taken note, as shown by the "On our farm...we care" campaign. Remember the happy piggies? Billboards around the city also showcase cattle in a pasture, baby chicks in a pen with human babies foregrounded, bison grazing on the prairie, horses being embraced...

Blurry billboard picture taken from a moving car
 ...and eggs on a crate.

The Western Producer ran an article on May 25 titled  "Farmers, activists tussle to guide public conscience
." Consensus among farmers was that they needed to get the truth out to counter the claims of ignorant abolitionist activists who sway the opinions of people who don't know real farmers, but only Old MacDonald:

Maaskant said producers should be willing if people want to visit farms to see the source of their food. Animal agriculture practices have changed for the better over time and producers should be ready to explain it.
“I think it’s something we can be proud of and something we can talk about. I’m not ashamed to show anybody what I do,” he said.
John Maaskant is a chicken farmer. Or an egg farmer? I wonder what a picture of his hens would look like on a billboard, and why the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan chose to have the only billboard in the series without a picture of the animal that provides the food. These billboards are meant, according to the site, to be one of a "series of programs and activities, all designed to advance responsible animal welfare." Surely, then, the group can combat the wild claims about battery cages?

Not showing the truth is not a savvy move.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Home Garden is where the heart is

I've planted in seven garden plots this year, but our home garden is still dearest to me. When we moved in three and a half years ago, it was a 54 square foot strip of patchy weeds in front of the driveway. That summer, I dug it up with a spade, added half a bale of peat and a garbage bag of well-rotted cow manure, and had a bumper crop of tomatoes. The next summer I learned the pitfalls of monocropping, as blight hit my tomatoes. The following year I diversified, and this year - I think I like this one the best.

I planted vegetables that I knew my kids would enjoy picking and snacking on and vegetables that are best when brought to the table five minutes later. Lettuce, snap and shelling peas, cherry tomatoes, mizuna, carrots, shungikyu, basil, radishes, peppers, fall-planted garlic and the perennial chives. My son added three onions he grew from seed and an upside-down tomato he got for his birthday and my daughter planted a butternut squash.

And now that I've picked up the old seed packs and trimmed the grass, I can show it off! Tomorrow: first salad with lettuce and mizuna thinnings, chives, and radishes.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Photoessay: What does a six year old find interesting about gardening?

My son got a camera for his birthday. He came to work with me last Tuesday. Here's what he thought was fit to shoot:


The windows look like arrow slits in a medieval castle.

Bedding plants

Me opening a can (there were many pictures like this)


Disgruntled mom (see "Gumbo")


Friday, June 8, 2012


Is gumbo:

a) a delicious thick soup featured in Lousianan cuisine that typically contains "a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables, which can include celery, bell peppers, and onions (a trio known in Cajun cuisine as the 'holy trinity')."

b)The plasticine-textured glop that is rock-hard when dry, impervious when wet, and passes for soil in the area in which I live?

The answer, here, is b) and c) the bane of my gardening spring. At my job, I have been working with 5400 square feet of this muck, which, despite the application of countless bucketloads of topsoil, still looks like this:

We need to get on the institutional composting, stat.

What is the soil typically like where you are?