Posts Tagged ‘growing food’

Eating in May

Friday, May 8th, 2009

While April always seems somewhat bleak in terms of eating locally and seasonally, it is surprising how quickly things begin to turn around.  After making the last curried squash soup and eating as many variations of coleslaw, carrot and sprout salad, and cabbage and sprout salad as I can possibly think of, it is nice to move on to food from the garden.  I find that by the first week of May I have something to eat every day, though this is made easier because I have access to some wild foods.  Also, I have what I call ‘volunteers’ in  my garden – vegetables that have survived the winter and are up and growing – this year there is quite a bit of red Russian kale, several dozen shoots of garlic (I use these like a green onion and call them green garlic), and three or four bunches of green onions.  Often I have spinach as well, but not this year.

So, for those of you wondering what meals look like around here – it is now May 8 and so far I have made

  • a fried rice with green garlic, green onions, garlic chives, onions, cabbage, and carrots
  • steamed fiddleheads, with a meal of burgers and potatoes
  • a clear soup with wild leeks, green garlic, chives, and green onions
  • a pasta with wild leeks and green garlic
  • a stew with chicken, parsnips, chives, and chervil
  • my first spinach salads – with mushrooms and feta cheese

And as I look around, I have a list of what is on the menu for the next week

  • many more spinach salads
  • another pasta with wild leeks and garlic chives
  • wild leek and potato soup
  • creamed kale or maybe kale and potato soup
  • my first salads of baby greens
  • some egg dishes with sorrel and chives – sorrel is a wonderful lemony tasting perennial that is up early in the spring
  • rhubarb pie
  • I hear the first local asparagus is available – quiche, steamed, just eaten fresh
  • ………….as you can see, it looks better all the time!!!

There are a few other wild foods that I would like to try – finally tried Solomon’s Seal but only the very bottom of the stalk was good.  The top was bitter but, to be honest, that is what the book had said!  Perhaps I waited too long and the plant was too big, but nevertheless I would have to have a much larger patch than I do to make even a small meal.  But there are also cattails and the many hundreds of dandelions that dot my lawn.  Would love to hear from readers who have ideas on how to use dandelion greens – I began exploring recipes for them last year, and want to continue.

Edible Landscaping

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

I attended an excellent workshop at St. Lawrence College in Kingston this weekend.  It was given by Ken Taylor of Windmill Point Farms in Ile Perrot, just west of Montreal.  Ken has been growing and developing fruit and nut trees for the past thirty years.  He specializes in finding and developing varieties that require very little attention , are disease resistant, and that survive our Canadian winters.  He has an incredible wealth of knowledge gained through years of experimenting and self-teaching.

Of the many fruit trees Ken sells, it seems he is keenest on the Asian Pear.  He says he planted  a line of trees 20 years ago at 4 foot spacings, assuming many would die and he would end up with the correct spacing of 10 – 12 feet.  Today, these trees have all survived and produce bumper crops of nearly perfect fruit despite never having been ‘pruned, weeded, watered, fertilized, or sprayed’.  The Asian Pear originated in China and tastes something like a pear-apple cross, they store far better than apples and maintain their crunchy texture and delicious flavour for many months.  The trees tend to be small, manageable for picking, and produce fruit in two years.  Other interesting varieties included a plum that was resistant to black knot disease, an apricot variety developed from a several hundred year old tree he found near Georgian Bay, and a Japanese walnut that is hardy, delicious, and extremely productive.

Windmill Point Farm also sells small fruits and berries, Ken recommended the mulberry tree, black raspberries, several grape varieties,and something called the Albion strawberry, the best everbearing strawberry variety he has ever seen.  He believes, like I do, that many of us can grow a great deal of our own food, and in so doing, significantly change our systems of food production.  He works hard to make it interesting, successful, and easy for all of us first time fruit and nut growers.

Information about the farm is available both at the Windmill Point website and at his nursery website All sales are through the nursery.  As well, the spring 2009 edition of Canadian Organic Growers features  an article entitled Forbidden Fruit which is written by Ken Taylor and is on growing pears.

April Gardening

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Spring is in full swing here, with its mix of very hot and very cool days.  All of my April planting is finished, including a bed of mixed salad greens, some radishes, and peas.  I also planted a flat with spinach, green onions, beets, endive, and lettuce that I started in late March.  All of this is under a section of floating row cover – this is a light almost interfacing like fabric that I rock down over my wide beds.  The plants grow up underneath it and it allows 80% of the light through, all of the rain, and adds 4C of warmth to the bed.  Since soil temperature is the biggest factor in growth rates in the spring, it does make a huge difference.  I would say it speeds up the maturity of all that I plant in April by two to three weeks.  The cover is available through many seed catalogues but there are many different weights so you have to be a bit careful – you want a weight that does not need hoop support.   I found that Stokes Seeds had the cover that I wanted in 50′ sections and a width that works for my four foot wide beds.

For anyone who really wants to grow their own food, it is nice if the work can be done quickly and efficiently.  Keeping your garden to a manageable size is really important – I would recommend nothing bigger than 500 square feet to start.  Another time saving idea is to dig your pea seeds in, rather than making trenches and seeding by hand.  It is a random seeding but it works.  I count out about 10 pea seeds for every square foot of garden that I want to plant and then scatter them evenly over my bed.  I then take my garden fork and quickly turn the soil- some seeds end up a bit deep, some too close to the surface, and the rest come up nicely.  This really does save a great deal of time.

I like to work with transplants if possible, I find it easier to start seedlings indoors on a monthly basis and then plant them out into the garden when they are three to four weeks old.  For my May bed I have started a flat with spinach, lettuce, green onions, fennel, and Swiss chard.  I also have a flat with tomatoes and peppers that I started in March.  Both of these I keep outside in a small mini-type greenhouse that I made with 2 x 4’s and second hand glass.  It works very well and means I don’t have to use my light table any longer.

Experiential Learning

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A good friend of mine is the head of the Outdoor Education program at Queen’s University here in Kingston.  She has taken my gardening workshops and really believes that growing food should be part of Outdoor Education.  She recently asked me to write a small article for a newsletter, which I have exerpted below:

A century ago, almost everyone knew how to grow something, growing food and harvesting and storing it were very much part of day to day life and therefore part of a person’s education. Often the academic year was arranged around the growing season, to allow children to help with the work on the farm. Food was relatively simple, unprocessed and unpackaged. But food production has become big business and today fewer and fewer people are actually involved in the whole process. This has led to several generations of people who have very little understanding of their relationship to food or to the land that grows it. I also believe it has led to a host of very poor environmental decisions that are beginning to have real consequences.

Understanding nature is an experiential kind of learning. The interconnectedness of all that is our environment cannot be learned from a book. One can read about the need to act mindfully, but it is often only when one has actually spilled that night’s dinner into the campfire that a person begins to really understand what it means to be careful and thoughtful in their actions.

Growing food is also a very important form of experiential learning. Gardening, and the thinking that happens when one is engaged in it, is an invaluable experience. It is by putting our hands into the soil and by experiencing the whole season, that one really begins to understand the processes that are at work. It is through the satisfaction of growing and eating something that one comes to value the earth. And it is through being faced with choices, that one begins to understand their implications.

As an organic market gardener, one of my first real lessons in thinking something through came when I was faced with an outbreak of cucumber beetles. These tiny beetles are very fast and hard to catch, and they can easily destroy young cucumber plants. I remember going to the local farm co-op store and looking at the remedies – this was before they had organic insecticides. I read the labels, looked at the price (very high), and actually bought a container of something and brought it home. Then I went out into the garden and as I worked I thought about the chemical, about the whole physical action of putting it on my cucumber plants, and then finally about harvesting those cucumbers and feeding them to my family. I realized that the chemical insecticide was just not an option. I think we lost most of that cucumber crop, but there were lots of other things to eat, and the next year we paid far more attention to the growing conditions for cucumbers. Nature makes us wait and I firmly believe that it is this process of waiting that causes us to think and to look for environmentally responsible alternatives. The quick fix does not allow for this process to ever occur.

Growing one’s own food also brings up many questions concerning value. Science, technology, and industry have replaced so much of what was once an inherent part of human existence with artificial alternatives. Why would anyone grow a head of lettuce when it can be bought for 60 cents at the grocery store? Having grown my own food for 25 years now, I would ask why anyone would want to forego the experience of harvesting and eating something they have grown themselves for something that has no connection to their own life. Taste and quality are definitely superior, but more than that, it is the satisfaction and the richness that gardening brings to my life that cannot be replaced. In harvesting my own food year after year, I feel the sun, the wind, the soil. I also feel deeply grateful for all that the earth has provided. Somewhere along the way I made a big shift from thinking that I grew my own food to realizing that I cared for this miracle that is the soil and in doing so, was blessed with abundance. For me, this is a way of knowing and of being in the world that has to be felt and experienced through thoughtful work in order to be understood. I also believe that it is the foundation for the kind of earth centered philosophy that we need so badly if we are to preserve this planet for future generations.