Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bringing Sustainability into Christmas Festivities

I enjoy celebrating the year's end. This time of year marks the end of the planet's yearly perigrination around the sun and the powerful impact that bob and weave has on our beautiful blue planet and all our lives. So I begin the celebration by marking the winter solstice.

As a gardener, and grower of food, I am strengthening the awareness that ruled our ancestors existance. Their survival depended on being accutely attuned to the shifts in nature that exerted life and death influences on their hunter gatherer and then on their agrarian way of life. It is only since the industrial revolution that we have fallen under the delusion that our navel string to mother earth has been cut and that we no longer need to care for and respect the natural systems that provide all our basic needs. Folly indeed to allow ourselves to be lulled into such a false sense of security. When I trace the origin of my vital supplies, past the middle men, I clearly see that my needs are provided by, so generously and so ingeneously by the beautiful planet I live on.

"... the earth, gentle and indulgent, ever subservient to the wants of man, speads his walks with flowers, and his table with plenty; returns with interest every good committed to her care."

Christmas, the holiday of my Catholic upbringing has influenced the way that I express the celebration. The Christmas tree, the nativity scene, the twinkling lights and baubles, the gift giving are all fond images from my upbringing. I recognize and respect the holiday as a celebration of Christ's birth and the impact of his teachings.

The source of my inspiration, realizations and creative expressions, however, come from my practise of tuning in to my "heart" - the interconnected source of all.

I value this time of the year as a time to strengthen my role in the family as hearth keeper. A time to focus loving energy into family and home.

Here are some of the ways I thought of for expressing meaning, richness and sustainablity in my year end celebrations.

I made sorrel, a traditional West Indian Christmas drink made from dried flower sepals, bottled it in recycled wine bottles and gave it as gifts.

As a family we enjoyed a wonderful traditional Caribbean meal of pigeon peas, calaloo, stewed eddoes and ochras and macaroni pie.

I had fun creating momentos of my daughters' summer trip to Mexico using their photos mounted on bits and pieces found at V.V. to create a collage.

My daughter made donation to a African NGO on my behalf and I made a donation on thier behalf.

They both gave me gifts from local artisans and a Hatian artist.

I planted spring bulbs for each of them in containers I found a V. V.

I scored a wonderful plaid, woolen shirt for $10 from a thrift shop and patched the moth holes and worn patches. A warm gift for the daughter who lives on a farm.

We enjoyed community by inviting neighbours to participate in making (and tasting) 150 pastels, a Trinidadian Christmas treat similar to tamales.

I made a wreath for the front door and cedar garlands using clipped greenery foraged around the neighbourhood and trimmings from the Christmas tree farm.

My daughter decorated a number of her gifts with pleated late return fines bills from the library! Very effective.

We fanned the family flame by reading writings by my Dad, where he reminises about living on a coconut estate as a seven year old boy while my daughter knits her Christmas gifts.

I used one packet of white tissue and one of coloured tissue to wrap my gifts over a base of recycled white newsprint collected throughout the year. We made a point of folding all the wrapping paper and putting it into the recycle bag once we had opened our gifts.

Lastly, I discovered that the little pairs of juncos that visit our deck prefer pecking food from the ground rather than flying up to feed off the hanging suet block so I cook them a batch of cornmeal made with olive oil and butter which I roll into balls. I replenish the tray about one ball every other day, which they peck away at.

Recipe for Corn meal balls for birds

2 cups water
1 cup corn meal
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup olive oil

Boil together until corn meal cooks and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
When dry enough turn out on the counter to cool. Knead the dough and roll into balls. Store them in the fringe and put a ball out for the birds as needed.
Good entertainment for cats and humans.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Herb Harvest ... Seed Saving ...

Summer Savory

I cut back my summer savory plant in summer and put it to dry in a paper bag. When it was properly dry I rubbed the stems and refilled the herb bottle. Now I am re-stocked with summer savory for another year.

Seed Saving

I remembered to leave some of the sweet pea seed pods to mature and dry on the vines this year. I collected the seed and stored them in the feezer for next year.

Herb Harvesting

I have had an unfulfilled desire since moving from the Caribbean. There is wonderful flavour pepper we grow back home which we refer to as a seasoning pepper or flavour pepper. I did a little research recently and it seems that it is only grown in that part of the world. The beauty of this pepper is it is very flavourful and mildly hot.
I have always missed having that pepper available and have tried acquiring the seeds unsuccessfully. This summer I did get some seed from my sister-in-law who lives in Florida from a plant in her garden which originally came from West Indian seed, however these peppers have reverted to being flavourful but very hot.

Traditionally, we make a special Trinidadian Christmas dish called "pastels", a cornmeal envelope of seasoned meat wrapped and steamed in banana leaf. I made my yearly pilgramige to the Caribbean store in New Westminster to buy the ingredients and discovered that they import flavour peppers and freeze them, so I stocked up. They are all gone now, incorporated into the pastels, but I saved, washed, dried and froze the seeds and will try growing them next year. I look forward to seeing what happens. My theory is that West Coast summers are neither long enough or hot enough to generate the flavour in the peppers that I so fondly remember. I hope I am wrong.

Delicato Squash

My daughter, recently introduced me to the delights of the Delicato squash! Yummy! She prepared it coated in a freshly roasted Indian spice mix, cut into small pieces, skin and all and roasted in the oven. I also saved the very generous supply of seeds from that Delicato squash as well.

However, I also discovered that the genetic purity of the squash family is easily corruped. If other varieties are growing nearby they easity cross pollinate and offspring end up as hybrids, rather than replicas of the parent. We will find out whether this particular Delicato was involved in any dalliances over summer!

Roasted Veggie season

How pretty a combination fall veggies look chopped up and ready for the roasting.

Apples ... Fall's Gift

Once again this year I stopped in to Mariposa, the very large fruit stand off Highway 3 just outside of Osooyos. I bought a very large bag of apples, large heads of garlic for planting, many varieties of peppers and the last of the sunflower heads packed with seed.

My plan was to can apple sauce and I did. I was lucky to find a wicked little gadget on sale for $12 which peels, slices and cores all in one blow and I made good use of it.

Apples reconfigured as apple sauce.

Summer Review ...

Looking back at the photos I have taken is a great way to remember the experiences this summer brought. Its amazing how quickly they pass from memory and one is on to the next thing. What a fabulous summer 2009 has been for growing tomatoes and basil! The tomato sauce I canned is all gone now but it was sure delicious while it lasted.

Some of the pleasures enjoyed this summer have been ...

Eating sugar snap peas off the vine.

Picking blueberries....

Harvesting for the home from our Urban Farming Garden....

Beautiful meals from summer delicacies....

Discovering a summer garden in full bloom growing on an empty lot along a country road....

We so enjoyed our afternoon visit in this garden on the side of the road, walking through the path ways, admiring the compositions from different angles, naming the flowers we knew, discovering new varieties we didn't, taking loverly photos and appreciating the gardener's gift. When I got back the photos, I returned and put some copies into the mailbox across the road and included a thank you note.

"Earth laughs in flowers."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It ain't over yet! ....

Summer has been quite hectic. That little heat wave we had kept me on my toes. I was watering the small clay pots of herbs,flowers and salad greens daily and the very large pots more than the usual once a week. It is worth the effort however, because it is even more effort trying to help your garden recuperate. Even more drastic, replacing the plants entirely.

So now that is over and my hosta tells me, as its leaves die off one by one, fall is around the corner, I feel myself relaxing. However, there is more to come.
Think of fall as the flipside to spring. Remember spring vegetables? The selection of veggies that prefer cool weather? salad greens, lettuce, radishes, asian greens etc. You can have another go around with them. The conditions are not quite the same as the light and temperature are decreasing rather than building, so vitality is diminished.

Some seedlings such as things you hope to overwinter should have been started mid June/beginning July. Things like the cole family ... kales, brussel sprouts, broccoli raab. They need to be well established seedlings by now if they are to make it though the winter.

If you missed starting seedling end of June beginning of July, for fall/winter this year, never mind, make a note in your calendar for next year. While you are at it, remind yourself to buy the seeds you will need for fall plantings at the beginning of the year. Lettuces such as Continuity, Rouge d'Hiver and Winter Density also Winter Mesclun Blend. The shop may be out if you think of doing this in fall.

Perhaps you can still grab the opportunity and find a source of healthy fall seedlings to buy and you can still try your hand at fall plantings. Start some salad greens, asian greens and lettuce.

I started some scallions, kales, broccoli rab, bulbing fennel and planted some of it in yesterday. The lettuces I started a few weeks ago, seeding straight into a large clay pot as mesclun and transplanted individual plants into other pots.

I am still waiting for some of the bins to be vacated by the tomatoes, which are taking their own sweet time to ripen up. While the fall/winter plants wait their turn in the large containers I have potted up the seedlings to larger seedling containers so as to support their continued healthy growth.

Of course we are talking about overwintering on a balcony so quantity is out of the question.

I have jammed the scallions in cheek by jowl and hope for the best and have been a little more generous to the bulbing fennel. The one kale plant I planted has a bin all to itself. Kale plants survive winter and can get very large and produce lustily. I expect good returns on my investment.

So ... take a breather ... take time to chill with a friend ... enjoy the fruits of your labour ... and then get back at it ... try your hand at extending the season.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ah! Summer ...

I was very conscientious this year. I tried hard to be committed as a garden caretaker. Between my consistent efforts and the amazing warm and mostly dry weather we have enjoyed this summer, I am very satisfied with the results.

The bounty of summer ... a gardener's pleasure and reward.

Sweet Peas from my Community Garden

I made a decision in spring that this year I would not bother with sugar snap peas in my community garden ... instead I would indulge lavishly in sweet peas! Those saturated colours and glorious fragrance. I am greedy and indulgent when it comes to bringing this natural and free beauty into my surroundings. I pick a large bunch of sweet peas for my bedside table weekly.

Beans ... Beans ... good for your heart

Bean plants are most generous. They spit out beans by the bushel full. Beans started pouring in from my community garden and the urban agricultre gardens. There is only so much beans you can eat so you begin wondering how can you put all this plenty to good use. I decided to tackle the situation in two ways: make pickles and blanch and freeze. I wanted to prepare the beans in ways that we would be sure to use them. I remebered that my girls enjoyed the pickled beans that are served in Milestone's Bloody Marys so I figured that was a safe bet.

I pickled the beans in apple cider. I figured that might be a healthier option as a vinegar. I flavoured with garlic cloves and hot chilies.

To blanch you drop the cleaned and trimmed beans into boiling water for a quick minute and fish them out and drop them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain them and pack them in freezer bags and store in the freezer. Pull them out on a wet and gloomy day and make a wonderful minestrone flavoured with basil pesto.

Basil and Tomatoes

This was the year for those two buddies ... Basil and Tomato.

I picked the right year to dedicate to tomatoes. Up until this year I felt we are rather silly to try and push the boundries in this Pacific Northwest climate by growing tomatoes. Well, the act of faith paid off, all conditions aligned in favour of tomatoes and basil in 2009 summer.
The ones that did best were the large varieties that I grew in my neighbour's driveway. The bushes were not prolific but turned them out one by one and with five bushes, it has been just enough for us. My husband and myself.

At the height of production I ended up with a tray full of tomatoes (some from my community garden) and I made a litre bottle of tomato sauce and put it away.

Harvesting my Favorite Herb

I have grown quite fond of Summer Savory ... not a herb you hear of much.
It is particularly good in egg and cheese dishes.
This year I started three seedlings in a bulb pot. They grew as well as they could manage under the confined conditions and as they began to bloom I cut them off at the base and stuffed them into a brown paper bag to dry. When the leaves dry and begin to fall off I will rub off the stems, still in the bag and empty the fragrant leaves into my specially labeled dollar store bottle, which is presently empty as last year's harvest has been all used up.

Enjoying the Bounty

You know ... you don't need much to feel totally wealthy. A bowl of free cukes picked straight from your balcony vine ... we found three fat ones this weekend .. right when the girls were visiting ... and beautiful, full, ripe tomatoes plucked from your own bushes you have been tending carefully, seasoned with olive oil and fresh picked basil leaves. Sitting in the sunshine, relaxing, surrounded by folk your love, eating, enjoying and chatting! Bliss.
Ahhhhh! .... summer!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Hearty Welcome to Summer ...

Summer Solstice Celebration
This transplanted West Indian has adopted a Pacific Northwest way to mark and
acknowledge our planet's bob and weave around the sun. Gives the neighbours something to wake up and talk about, I'm sure. For myself I feel I am giving respect where respect is due. I am acknowledging and syching my psyche with the annual plantetary transitions that impact us earth creatures fundamentally. A basic reality temporarily, lost from view in our urban, technological world.

The Summer Garden is Planted but it still feels like Spring
All the elements are in place to receive the best of summer.
With the hubby's kind help, three more Ikea metal bins have been attached to the outside of the bannister. With this new space available for growing food I now have planted three types of tomatoes - Juliet, Tumbler and Patio, companion planted with basil. A bush cucumber is cascading downwards, encouragingly full of flowers and baby cukes, cohabitating with a melon, either Minnesota Midget or Earligold, I have lost track. In the final bin I did a scattering of toy choy which I have thinned to about twelve plants. I will be enjoying them soon as they are fast growers. The extended cool weather has made it possible to grow a second crop of toy choy in this way.

Compost as Mulch
I have added a layer of three quarter done, home compost as a mulch over all the pots. I have also conscientiously been adding seaweed and fish emulsion to any hand watering. Compost tea drained from the compost bins and another batch made from comfrey have been fortifying the waterings of my backyards plantings.

Salad Ingredients
I purchased a few more clay pots which are placed along the balcony railing secured by a nail through the drainage hole. I will have more room for salad greens now. I am growing a variety of individual lettuces in two pots, which I harvest as "cut and come" again. In the the third container I am growing the lettuces as mesclun to be sheared at intervals. I have reseeded more arugula, my favourite, which is coming along very slowly.

An observation about growing Mesclun this year
I don't know what it is but I have had very poor success with growing mesclun mixes from West Coast Seed this year. I have reseeded my large clay pot, dedicated to meslun, mostly West Coast Market Mix and Provencal Mix about three times and nothing has come up other than a few mustards! I don't know what is going on. Last year mesculun mixes were the centre of my container gardening.

I notice that seedlings were sprouting only close to the wall of the pot so I am covering the pots with plastic wrap so as to retain the moisture incase the problem is that the surface of the medium is drying out as the seeds are at their most vulnerable germination stage.

This is the year for lettuce
I have successfully grown the WCS Super Gourmet Salad lettuce blend, planting more every two weeks. I don't know which of the five different lettuces in the blend are actually growing as it seems to be to be only two green types are growing: one with a straight edge and one with a fluted edge. But they are prolific and vigorous and tender eating. My cool porch has also delayed bolting and bitterness brought on in lettuce with the arrival of warmer weather.

My most recent planting of lettuce has been of warm weather tolerant varieties,
in anticipation of warmer July weather: Buttercrunch described as "not bitter in summer" and Anuenue described as "heat tolerant". We shall see ...

Last winter seems to have dipped low enough to wipe out the population of Rosemary in may coastal gardens. I lost my little potted plant which I have now replaced. Can't do without a Rosemary plant close at hand. I have also acquired Summer Savory, which is another favourite. I love the flavour in cheese and egg dishes. I pulled out the plant at the end of last year, it is an annual, dried it and bottled it up. I am about at the end of my supply of dried herb and look forward to harvesting and drying this year's plant. Dill is another must have ... great with salmon and boiled potatoes and butter. I find it grows so slowly though on my cool balcony, there is never enough when I want to use it.

Once again I have planted a variety of tomatoes in buckets and hung them from the picket fence in my shady back yard. Not the best conditions as tomatoes need lots of sun. The plants are very healthy, growing lots of foliage but not much in the way of fruit so far. I realize that I need to give them a jolt of phosporus so encourage fruit set. I read on the internet that "Urine is the most concentrated source of phosphorus," hmmm!...

Strawberries in Hanging Baskets
I had another go at growing stawberries in hanging baskets. The first fruit, nurtured on cow manure were plump, fragrant and delectable as a strawberry should be. Later berries got smaller and smaller so I will be trying for a second flush with lavish waterings of compost teas.

Coveted Tomatoes
This year I am upping the odds of growing tomatoes by negotiating with my next door neibour to use her driveway while she is away in China for the summer. I have planted large tubs of tomatoes, melons and zinnias to be exact. The driveway is west facing ... long afternoon sunshine! ... combined with a watering of urine .... hummmm .. imagine the possabilities ....

Self watering containers
Also in the back yard I have two large selfwatering containers, one with potatoes which look lusty and vigorous and one of Sugar Ann sugar snap peas which I replanted lavishly, twice, and have rewarded my efforts dismally. I believe I have harvested two peas to date.

The Belles of the Balcony
The spotlight and congratulations go the geraniums, they are pushing out the flower buds at an alarming rate, they are surely exhausting themselves and summer has only just begun!

Ever hopeful, we forge ahead.