Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fall Leaves ... an under valued FREE resource

The fall parade is upon us and the trees are having their farewell moment in the spotlight as they display their fall colours and shed their leaves.

Composters Alert! Here is your opportunity to benefit from all the hard work done by others. On a Sunday afternoon, jump in your vehicle and cruise the neighbourhood. Look for subdivisions with leafy trees. I have a personal favourite.

I have no idea what they are! They are the first trees to bow out in fall with a magnificent display of sunny yellow. I anticipate and greatly enjoy the show every year, however, from a discerning composter's perspective, I appreciate the small compound leaves, that do not mat in the compost bin and break down quickly, contributing their carbon to the mix, just as much!

So now is the time to get out in your neighbourhood, late on a Sunday afternoon, and toss neatly packaged bags of leaves into you trunk! (If all is in your favour, it will not have rained for a couple of days before the homeowners decided to undertake this yearly chore and the leaves will be dry.) Collect what you might consider to be a year's supply for you to add to you compost with each new addition of kitchen waste. Such a mix will break down to give you a well rounded blend of nutritious plant food in a few months.

I have upped my year's supply to four bags. I find that is what I need to take me through until the leaves fall again next year. This year I had to resort to a bag of grass clippings, when I ran out too soon. Grass clippings are great if you are sure that your supplier has not added any nefarious substances, which I was not.

I acquired a pretty blue rain barrel with no lid which I will use this year to store two bags of leaves. That way the leave will be better ventilated and can dry out. I will open the top of the other bags to air them out as the the leaves are still damp. It is a good idea to punch random holes in the sides of the bag so moisture can escape. You want to avoid encouraging mold. The open top of the bag of leaves doubles as a great nest for friend Mottlee when he spends those cold, winter night outside, which he so seems to enjoy.


I stopped at a huge fruit stand somewhere just out of Keremeos called Mariposa Orchards (250-499-2749) on the long drive back from Kelowna to Richmond about two weeks ago. I spent over an hour there inspecting the wonderful fall bounty - huge crates of multiple varieties of peppers, apples, pears, potatoes and onions. All kinds of pumpkins, squashes, gourds and translucent ears of popping corn in pale yellow and pink. A huge array of jams, jellies and honeys. The Okanagan is a bountiful indeed! What a feast for the eyes!

As I was planning a Fall Feast and celebration for my hubby's b/day a week later, I decided to stock up.

A Gift for my Feathered Friends:

Actually two gifts. I also bought a bottle gourd in Keremeos which I plan to dry, drill and turn into a bird house and make it avaialble as a FREE residence for a lucky neighbourhood couple to raise a little family.

I also purchased a wonderful large sunflower head, chock full of white seeds neatly packed in swirls around the sunflower's face. Have you ever looked closely at a sunflower's face? Inspiring and wonderous. Inspires hope in universal intelligence and creativity!

I pierced the back of the sunflower with a skewer and suspended it from a leather thong and hung it just outside the kitchen window where I can observe who comes for the seeds. I have not been disappointed. Despite the threat of two cats lurking about, two brave little chickadees have been flying in, and methodically removing seeds, one by one. Soon the sunflower will look like a Yin Yang icon. Half light, half dark.

Salad Greens:

The clay bowl of salad greens I replanted in early fall have grown but quickly bolted. All the cruciferous ('with four equal petals arranged crosswise')family - patchoy, etc, (or is it cole family?)seem to be aware that their days in the sun are short lived. The bees have been coming by and enjoying this small,late season supply of nectar. I also added some, not all (left some for the bees) of the flowers to a festive salad, they are quite sweet.

Fall is Bittersweet:

Every season has its gifts, bounty and beauty. It is a question of paying attention so one can see them coming.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Cucumbers

The cucumber seeds I planted on the 4th May, transplanted into the container on the outside of the porch railing, yeilded the first cucumber on the 3rd August. Three months to make a cucumber. I would consider growing cucumbers a success. The vine produced about 6 large crisp cucumbers in total. As each brahch grew longer and each successive fruit grew further along the end of the vine I would have to haul the strand up carefully to be able to harvest the cucumber dangling off the end. Reminiscent of Repunzel but I got a cucumber rather than a prince.

I like the lavish look of large cucumber leaves tumbling over the balcony railing.

Next year I might fix more containers to the outside of the porch and consider growing another variety of cucumber in one of them.

Cucumber pickles.

I went to a little class on pickling by Andrea Potter. We used a brine solution rather than vinegar. This allows for friendly bacteria to multiply and create the acidity. Eating these pickles adds probiotics to your gut. Pickling is a way to preserve surplus food for winter.

I bought young cucumbers from a local farm market and decided to try my hand. I found some wide mouth jars with tight lids at Valu Village. The bottles of pickling cucumbers sit on my counter and I am watching their progress. To date the saline solution has gone cloudy and the cucumbers which were originally jammed together have shrunk a bit and are floating a little higher in their brine. Occasionally I remove the lids and skim tiny floating islands of fluffy white mold off the surface and taste the brine. The acidity is growing and when it is to my liking, I will put the bottles into the fridge which technically should slow the bacterial activity. I will be sure to eat a pickle first before giving the bottles away to my pickle loving daughters .... just in case.

Another great find at Valu Village was an enamel sterlizing pot for making preserves. I bought it for $15! I was planning to make a green tomato relish but it just was not to be.


I had better success with tomatoes this year. The buckets hanging from the fence eventually produced copious numbers of small, pear shaped, yellow tomatoes. They are a pretty addition to a salad ... scant acidity ... a bit "cottony" in texture but visually delightful. I mixed the yellow and red tomatoes to make cooked salsas with lots of cilantro to accompany scrambled eggs for Sunday brunch.

The tomato plant on the outside of the balcony was my "starchild". The tomatoes were tasty and I enjoyed the ones that ripened. I did not cover this plant with plastic with predictable results. This one plant was loaded with fruit of many sizes and the race between fast approaching cooler weather and unripened fruit was tight. I tried to speed up the ripening process by pruning off about half the leaves so as to concentrate the vital energy into ripening rather than growth and to expose the tomatoes to the weakening rays of the sunshine. That helped a bit. Got a few more ripe tomatoes before the blight struck. Grey, soft spots on the leaves, spreading to the stems and into the tomatos showing up as speckled brown areas on the surface.

As a last resort I amputated the limbs, removing all the green tomatoes that appeared unblemished and envisioned a sweet and sour green tomato relish flecked with red pimiento peppers. This looked like a positive outcome! ... particlarly when I came across the canning pot at Valu Village. Then the brown mottling surfaced on the salvaged green tomatoes and I conceeded defeat to the blight. The tomatoes went into the garbage ... I did not even dare to compost them.

Next year I will shelter the tomatoes on the balcony with plastic too.

The Potatoes

The fingerling potatoes are waiting to be harvested. I really want to make an occasion of the harvest. My plan it to accomplish a number of goals. I want to film the occasion as the final segment to the planting sequence filmed earlier in the year. I wanted to invite my young neighbours to join me because children bring new levels of delight to unearthing potatoes. To date I have done neither ... and the fingerling potatoes wait patiently under the soil

The potato plant was the visible indicator as to what might be happening underground ... I say might, because we may plunge into the soil with greath expectations, camera rolling and be sorely disappointed. So I can only hope that the lush, leafy growth above ground was worth the dead lawn in its shadow and we will uncover a generous proliferation of little brown nubs.

Pictures taken in August, September and October.

The "Watermelon for Everyone" was Nothing for No One:

In the enthusiasm of the moment, I invited two young neighbours to join me in planting a large tub with watermelon seeds. We enjoyed the ritual. They whispered promises of care and cast encantations and blessings for abundance and good health. We placed the pot, at the beginning of the summer holidays on my Chinese neighbour's front step (she gave me permission as they would be away in China for the holidays) where it would receive lots westerly sunshine. The plants grew lustily and we were filled with hope. I, of course, knew there was one fatal flaw in the effort. The seeds were planted much too late. The children however, faithfully watered the seeds and delighted in seeing way too may of them pop up through the rich brown soil. Steadily expanding over the rim of the pot and flowing slo-mo down the sides. We did get flowers and even four tiny pale green stiped, round "promises" before the first frost halted the process.

We had a discussion about what we learnt and next year we promised to start the seeds much earlier. Next year we will have watermelon for everyone.

The Big Carrots

As with the potatoes I am hopefull that there are large, straight carrots growing ever longer under the proud, green leafy plumes.

Fall is Upon Us

Fall is tinged bittersweet. The garden is going to sleep. The first to bid adieu is the hosta. The leaves are yellowing. The rest will follow in succession.

To temper the blow I have already invested in bulbs. Something to look forward to. Hope.

I like to envision little vignettes. I mix and match my bulbs according to the pictures on the boxes. I look at the "due dates" ... early, mid and late spring. I look at heights and imagine small, medium and tall then I planted them in layers in clay pots according to the size of the bulb. From the largest the deepest to the smallest the shallowest. I crown the lot with cheerful violas and place the pots where I can see them from the kitchen window and down the front steps.

When the drizzle drones on and grey clouds erase the memory of sunshine I will think of the bulbs and remember the promise of Spring!