Thursday, August 9, 2012

Look What I Just Got!!

I have been horribly neglecting this blog lately (too many beach days, probably!) and will post soon but had to share my exciting new belonging--I just picked it up about 20 minutes ago after the hardware store called me to let me know my order had come in!!

I can't wait to get started on canned soup stocks, beans, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Problems (and Pests) in Paradise

I've been meaning to get to my garden since it rained on Tuesday, and it's now Saturday and I finally made it (for a little while, James was with me and had to rush back home to get ready for his soccer jamboree--I'll need to return this afternoon).  What greeted me was joy at seeing my lovely garden after a busy week, and then feeling my heart fall as I realised that this beautiful plot is no longer immune to gardening problems and its level of perfection has definitely plummeted.

I knew that this had started:

But didn't know that it had spread so much.  Actually, I was hoping that it hadn't spread so much. It's powdery mildew, and is caused by overly wet conditions (what?!) or high humidity.  It has been humid here this summer but nowhere near as humid as usual, and it certainly hasn't been wet.  So a little surprised and not so happy to find this little problem in my garden.  It especially affects squash plants, and none of my zucchini, pumpkin, and two precious butternut squash plants escaped unscathed.  So I pulled off the most affected leaves.  I left some of the others because I didn't want to take away all of the plants' photosynthetic ability, but I am worried it will spread.  I put the diseased leaves that I removed into a plastic bag and brought them home to our waste bin.  I pulled off extra leaves around the base of the plant where they were pretty bushy to increase air circulation, and I tried one organic-gardening-friendly home remedy:  I sprayed them with a 50% water 50% milk solution.  I used this solution on both affected and unaffected leaves, and I think I'll have to do it every few days, but I am hoping it will help.  I have also heard that a baking soda solution is helpful too--and if I need to do that, I will as well.  I'm only watering the base of the plants, and only early in the day so they have time to dry.  If you have other suggestions regarding powdery mildew and how I can fight it without using anything toxic in the garden, I'd be very grateful.

My ever ready and willing garden helper sprays the leaves too.

So now those leaves that aren't turning grey have white drips all over them. :)
Next on the list of troubles:  Colorado potato beetles.

I knew it was only a matter of time before they found my eggplants, but I thought that I would discover them as adults and get rid of them before they could reproduce in my precious patch of veggies.  Unfortunately, that was not the case:


Get off there, you!
I found them in voraciously-feeding-squishy-gross larval stage.  I didn't notice any egg masses, so I would be thrilled if the ones I found were the extent of it, but I'm sure that would be dreaming.  I picked off every little goober that I found and threw it (provided I didn't accidentally squish it) into the same plastic bag as the mildew-y pumpkin and squash leaves.  Next time I'll bring a mason jar with soapy water in it to collect them, I wasn't expecting to encounter these dastardly little leaf-chomping demons today.  Thank goodness for gardening gloves, is all I can say.  Yes, I'm a biologist, and yes (Johanna!) I am a little squeamish about bugs.  Not all bugs, just certain ones, but I still don't like touching most of them with bare skin.  It's my first year vegetable gardening, so I imagine I'll get over it.  Not yet, though.  Of additional concern are the following:

  • I naively planted my peppers, eggplant and tomatoes all together.  Well, there is a little buffer between the eggplant and tomatoes in the form of cucumbers and a couple of barely producing peas. But I found a little guy in the cucumbers and I am sure they will discover the tomatoes later on.  I really hope that they don't take to them, my prized crop!
  • The guys sharing the plot next to mine have a LOT of potatoes planted.  I saw the horrid little creatures in there too, and plan to email them to warn them about it.  I really don't want them to decide to relocate to my plot!
I know that Colorado potato beetles have a strong preference for eggplant, so I am hoping that at worst the vast majority of them will be drawn to those plants and I will have to fight the good fight in that part of the garden.  Even if I lose, if it keeps them away from the tomatoes, which I am just crossing my fingers hoping they don't enjoy nearly as much, it will be worth it.  I've mentioned before that I have only eaten eggplant once, so as disappointed as I would be, I think I could handle it.

In other, more exciting and happy news, James and I discovered this little friend rapidly crawling around in the pepper plants:

It's a lady bug larva.  And although it would be rare to hear me refer to any insect larval form as cute, I think this little dude is seriously cute.  Especially when I saw how fast he/she/it could go.  Not only do they turn into pretty ladybugs, which are a favourite of all small children and most people in general and are considered good luck by many, but it will eat aphids.  Lots of aphids.  AND, I discovered today upon my return from the garden, they eat Colorado potato beetle egg masses.  Wahoo!  So I hope that this little friend has a big clan just hiding out in the leaves ready to bring destruction on the pest population of my garden.  But even just one is pretty nice to find. :)

Shared with the Garden Life Link-UpLHITS Friday Link-Up, and Homestead Barn Hop #72 at Homestead Revival.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A little rain and a lot of relief

Most Tuesdays I post on a group blog, Cradled in the Waves.  My post today is about how this summer's drought-like conditions are affecting Prince Edward Island.  Please hop over to visit, read my post, and perhaps take a peek around.  I'd love to hear how you are coping with this year's unpredictable weather!

I also meant to (but neglected to) share last week's post, featuring pictures of my beautiful babies and a lovely PEI beach!

This post is shared with the Homestead Barn Hop #71 at The Prairie Homestead

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Excited About Eggplant

I may have eaten eggplant once in my life.  I'm not even sure.  But when I was picking up some veggie plants at a local garden centre this year, I saw a four-pack of "Fairytale" eggplants and I thought, "why not?"  And as they grow, I am becoming more and more excited about them.  I love the purple flowers.  They're prettier if you look directly into the centre, but I was trying to get at them without crushing any of the surrounding plants and so this is the photo that I ended up with.  Not perfect, but you can see that they are definitely fun.  I've been looking up moussaka and baba ganoush recipes and I am basically just dreaming about carrying a basket of beautiful purple fruit home from my garden plot.  And so far, not one Colorado potato beetle to be found.   What is new to your garden this year?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Not-So-New Nemesis: The Earwig

I have found earwigs to be among the most grotesque, horrendous, disgusting creatures on this earth for years now.  And yes, I appreciate all forms of life due to my education in conservation biology and as a Christian.  But my appreciation really takes a dive with non-native species that invade my life and property.  Starlings?  Not a fan.  Manitoba maple?  Can't stand it.  Earwigs?  I loathe them.

Not the clearest photo, but these little horrors are a bit tough to catch on a phone camera!

I had a university professor once (an awesome one, I might add) who told me that earwigs have amazingly maternal tendencies.  I think she thought that it might soften my decidedly unyielding detest for the creatures.  It didn't.  I like maternal animals.  I am one!  But earwig mommies are just something I don't sympathize with.

Particularly now.  I have had earwigs in our garden each year, and have always been horrified at their sneaky, yucky way of dropping from hiding places when you move something in the garden, their way of ending up in your line-dried laundry when you take it in (even after shaking!), their creepy-crawliness in general, and the way they multiply like crazy.  GROSS.  I actually was thinking to myself, just over a week ago, that they didn't seem to be that bad this year.  I wasn't encountering them at a comparable rate to the last couple of summers, I was only seeing the odd one here and there but definitely not being bombarded by them.  Things changed though.

I went outside to check on the vegetables I had planted in a built-in planter box on our deck.  It had one zucchini plant, one eggplant, two red pepper plants, and at least a hundred tiny carrot seedlings coming up.  This is what I found (keep in mind that these photos are from about 3 days ago, the current situation is only worse!):

Zucchini: early days of damage.

This plant had a bunch of gorgeous blooms.  All eaten away, now to nothing!

The last carrot seedling standing (now there isn't even one).

Pepper plants are apparently yummy.

Pepper plant number two suffers a little less damage (at first!)

Apparently eggplant leaves are not as palatable as some of the others, but they'll take what they can get!
 Not only did they eat my gorgeous veggies (I may add I am on planting #3 of yellow beans right now and these ones have all the leaves eaten right off the tops of the seedlings), but they added insult to injury when they left excrement all over the plants, which is pretty obvious in the zucchini pictures.  Yuck.

So enough moaning and complaining, what do we do about these dastardly insect villains?  The way I see it, we have three options:

Option 1
Leave them alone.  They actually eat slugs and aphids, and maybe you like that.  If you don't have an overpopulation, then they might actually be beneficial to have around.  It does pain me to admit that.

Option 2
Use some sort of awful insecticide that could potentially harm beneficial insects and leave a toxic residue in your plants where your kids or pets could be affected.  Yuck, no thanks.

Option 3
Use some organic and natural methods and hope for the best!  Here are a few I've put together and plan on trying this summer:

  • Use diatomaceous earth around your house foundation, walkways, fences, trees, and other structures.  Apply it in several different applications in late spring, about a week apart.
  • Take advantage of the earwigs' preference for damp, dark, close places and make some traps.  These could include:
    • a dampened, rolled up newspaper
    • a flower pot, upside down but propped up slightly and also filled with dampened, crumpled newspaper
    • an empty grapefruit half
    • cardboard boxes with a few small holes in them and baited with oatmeal or bran
    • Two pieces of 2x4 lumber, neatly stacked one upon the other.
      • These are all live traps.  You can shake them out into a bucket of soapy water, or boiling water, or feed them to chickens--I understand that the majority of our fine feathered friends relish them and they're a cheap (and abundant!) source of protein!  You can also seal them in a plastic bag to suffocate and throw them in the trash.  That seems a bit harsh, even to me.  Just make sure that you don't put them on your compost pile!!
    • For a more deadly approach, use an empty tuna can, fill it partially with oil, and place it on the ground in the garden where they will be interested (you could put honey or molasses in the oil to attract them, but I'm not sure it's really necessary and seems a waste of good baking supplies).  You can also half-bury a bottle of beer (drink about 2/3 first!) in the soil so that they can crawl in through the bottle neck and drown.  You'll also pick off some slugs this way too.
  • In the late fall, before the snow, you can pour boiling water down your foundation.  Due to the cooling weather, some earwigs will overwinter between your foundation and the soil in your yard as it is a warmer spot to hang out.  If you can catch them there while they're vulnerable, you might have a smaller population to deal with the next year.
If you do decide to trap them, make sure you put traps near your affected plants and put a lot of them out.  Keep checking, emptying, and replacing the traps until you see a noticeable decrease in earwig activity.  And good luck!

I have read that they are attracted to compost and mulch.  This is a problem for me because I am increasing the mulch in all areas of our garden, and just started two compost piles this spring/summer.  I have a feeling that these new ventures may have exacerbated the problem--but I'm not willing to give them up.  So we'll have to see if the other methods work!  I look forward to  attempting to combat this garden foe.  If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments!!

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hop #70 on Homestead Revival and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Vegetables are Growing: Pride (and Shame) at Our Helping Hands Plot

I've been really absorbed (and perhaps a bit lost) in a lot of goings-on lately, with children, work, cooking, gardening, trying to spend time with my husband, and bracing for some big lifestyle changes that are coming at us over the next year or so.  It seems to me that summer might not always be the most productive period for this little blog, but I wanted to share a few photos from our community garden plot (and a half) as the season is now really underway.

You can tell by those super long shadows that it is pretty late in the evening!  My plot is the one at the back just beyond the wheelbarrow.  The plot in the middle is one of the food pantry plots, and this one in the foreground is a plot I am sharing with my sister.  Her seeds were just recently planted on the left, and I planted some seriously discounted late-in-the-season eggplant, Roma tomatoes, and canteloupe transplants on the right-hand side, then surrounded them with wood chips.

This is a view of my beloved plot.  Those trellises are for pumpkin, butternut squash, and zucchini.  I realize that they are likely not big enough and may not work, but it was my first year and I was trying to cram as many plants into a small plot as was humanly possible.  I'll let you know how it goes!  Note the un-mulched section on the right.  I'll give a close up of it next  (this is where the shame comes into the post)...

OK so this is my weed patch, otherwise known as the section I planted spinach, swiss chard, carrots, broccoli, and herbs.  Why does it look like I am nurturing lambsquarters, dandelions, and some random feral-oregano-type-herb-intruder?  Well, when it was tilled this year (the very first time in probably ever since the park was established) there were a lot of small clods of sod left in the garden.  I took the biggest ones out, but left the smaller ones to (a) keep some biological matter in the soil to break down and (b) when I took the clods out I lost a lot of dirt that I wanted for planting.  Unfortunately, since most of these weeds are attached to the clods, when I pull a weed out I get a big old chunk of garden with it.  I didn't want to disturb the seeds, so I sort of let the weeds go crazy.  No I really have to spend some serious time with it since my other plants are barely coming up and having to compete with some much tougher garden companions.  Oops.

Clockwise from top left: zucchini, bush pickle cucumber, butternut squash, and pumpkin.  What is the deal with bush pickle (from the name, I would assume it is supposed to grow like a BUSH) being all vine-y and not bushlike at all?  Now I am realizing I squished it in between peas and eggplant because I thought it would grow up, not out.  Lesson learned.  The pumpkin is doing really well, the zucchini not so awesome but those transplants were in need of a little love when I bought them, and my precious organic butternut squash that I grew from seed and looked like it would die a terrible, lonely, neglected death, have come back and are doing really well, even if they are smaller than the others.  Yay!

It's like "Where's Waldo" looking for desirable plants in the weed patch, but here are some broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, peas (actually they're not lost in that patch, they're being smothered by non-bush-like bush pickle cucumbers farther down) and some precious little carrot seedlings.

Exciting and healthy!  Eggplant (first time growing, probably will be my first time eating, actually) and I love those fuzzy leaves!  Tomatoes: planted better boy, lemon boy, beefsteak and Roma and they all look super happy and are growing well; red bell peppers, and corn.  Fun!  I don't care if the corn doesn't do well but thought it would be fun to try and it'll be one of very few veggie varieties the children will actually eat.

Wheelbarrow with my poor little guy's snow shovel in it.  His real little shovel is at my parents' cottage, so he had to make do with this less-than-efficient one when helping me shovel shavings into the wheelbarrow and then onto the garden beds.  Do you appreciate the edge of my finger in the corner of the shot?  I thought so.  Bet you wish you could take stellar photos like I can!

Dancing gardener boy is still excited after a long hour of hard work and dances his way home to bed.  I love this little helper!

This post is shared with the Little House in the Suburbs LinkyThe Homestead Barn Hop #70 on Homestead Revival and Frugal Days, Sustainable Days.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Discouraging Days, Encouraging Ways (of Looking at Things)

It's funny how one minute I can feel like I can tackle all manner of projects, and then one little thing happens to cause my enthusiasm and confidence to collapse around me and leave me feeling completely at a loss, without any real energy to dust myself off and charge forward once again.  And I do mean a little thing.  This evening, it was a batch of yogurt that flopped.  Once I saw that, it seemed like nothing was going right in my entire homesteading world, and I got a little discouraged.  My mind is not always rational and can be a little dramatic so my thought process went a little like this (warning: this is not for the faint of heart, or the overly judgemental.  You might not like me so much at the end of this!):

1.  Oh no!  My yogurt didn't turn out.  It must be because I tried adding honey and vanilla so that we would actually really enjoy it.  Vanilla contains alcohol and honey has natural antibacterial qualities and what was I thinking?  I killed my poor darling little microbes before they had a chance to work wonders with that 2L carton of 2% milk that I just wasted.  Or maybe I added the yogurt when the milk was too hot.  I was in a rush, and it did feel a little hot.  I don't know, but I did something wrong.  (Cue melodramatic, Italian-inspired sigh.)

2.  (I unwrap the garlic that I put in the oven to roast with the potatoes, and then left in there too long.)  Oh no!  I left the garlic in the oven way too long and it did not turn into sweet, nutty deliciousness but rather into a bitter, burnt-tasting paste!  What a waste of a whole bulb!  Blah! (I throw it into the compost bin with a solid dose of self-pity and grumpiness.)

3.  Our house looks like a tornado went through it!  Why do I have to constantly step on upside down excavators and chunks of semi-solidified oatmeal blobs that were thrown to the floor in a moment of tantalizingly gleeful toddler behaviour?  Why didn't I set aside time to clean it up properly this week?  I knew I shouldn't have sat down to read a couple of chapters of Game of Thrones the other evening, I could have been efficiently decluttering my home and making it a much more restful place.  I may as well give up because it won't be done tonight.  (Sniff.)

4.  My yellow bean seeds never germinated, how does that happen?  They give beans to kindergarten students to plant because they are so reliable.    I haven't watered my community garden plot in 3 days, and it's been hot, sunny, and windy.  The poor plants over there have probably withered.  I also have a lot of work to do on the food pantry plots.  Those plots need to get planted!  I am falling behind everywhere. Oh no!  My poor container plants.  I imagine that they have completely dessicated and are standing plant skeletons, waiting to explode into dust particles at the first puff of wind.  (Wracking sob.  OK, well, not really.)

I could go on, but you get the picture.  I am not prone to throwing myself pity parties, as a rule, but tonight I just let myself get a wee bit carried away.  Before I told my self to shush it and stop being such a baby.  And I asked myself, why are things not exactly where you want them to be?  And I came upon a few answers:

1.  I've been sick for the last four days.  I've also just started a new job, that is awesome and only part-time, but those part-time hours are in the evenings and I haven't yet worked out the kinks of not being home during the time of day when I usually get housework done.  I also haven't felt like doing housework, and that is ok.  And, in fact, I did clean up on Tuesday afternoon, but we have little children, who are busy, and, well, you know how it is.  And the house actually isn't that bad.

2.  I really shouldn't let myself care too much about the failed yogurt and the burnt garlic.  I know how to do both of these things and all I wasted was a bulb of garlic and one 2L carton of milk.  And in fact, while trying to strain it out in the fridge just on the off-chance that I get some yogurt from it (because it did thicken a little bit), I am getting loads of whey to make buttermilk pancakes and other yummy baked treats.  So it isn't really wasted after all.  And I might be able to scrape out a half cup of yogurt, which does taste nice, that the kids could eat for a snack.  Not so bad after all!

3.  The garden is actually looking pretty good, the last time I went, and I think the bean seeds didn't germinate because they disappeared from the garden (the birds are looking pretty good to me right now as the culprits).  And, I had fun replanting the whole patch with James.  It's all good, this is the year to learn about vegetable gardening, and make mistakes, and figure out how to do things better, right?  And I am going to get out to the community garden this weekend when things slow down, and I will get those food pantry beds raked and prepared and planted and it will be fine.

4.  What is up with my Negative Nelly-ness, anyway?  I'm a little overtired, and still a little bit sick, and yes, a little overwhelmed, for the moment, anyhow, but really?  I haven't been reading my Bible or praying much lately.  I pray for a few moments in the evening, but I haven't really been committing myself to a thoughtful, meaningful conversation daily.  And so how am I supposed to know how to live my life and do and make and say what the Lord wants?  AND why am I not noticing all the blessings He has poured onto me lately?  Goodness!

This child, who delights me with her wild and crazy ways and her almost aggressive love for me, is about the sweetest thing I can imagine, especially during the only moments she's peaceful and quiet, in her sleep.

My sensitive, smart, funny, and incredibly loving little boy, who lives to help and just wants to spend time with me, does not care about the state of our house.  He just loves having us all together and spending time as a family.

Forget the messy porch in the background!  How can I not smile when I see my little monkey, dressed in a fleece sleeper in summer, trying to wear my shoes because she loves the bows, holding a dirty yellow golf ball just because, and teetering on the edge of tipping into my arms?  I love you, my silly girl.

This is one of the Sweet Millions plants that looked like it was not long for this world.  But the new leaves look a lot healthier, and it is starting to flower.  This is a blessing.

My very first strawberry plants, given to me by a friend and planted with the help of my precious son, are forming strawberries.  Just a few this year, because I only let a few blossoms stick around--I wanted the plants to get good and strong for next year.  But James and Susannah will both be able to pluck a few red berries from their own plants.  That is a gardening success in my mind!

It is taking me a while to get my chickens.  But I have a friend who offered to build me the coop for free, and the grass that we planted in the shady, dusty dirt area (where their run will be) is actually growing and looks like it might even be lush by the time they arrive!  That is a blessing in and of itself.

The oregano that wilted horribly after being dug out of a friend's garden and taken to a new home has come back and is doing really well.  I know that it might take over my garden and I may be overheard cursing it in a couple of years.  But right now, I am pretty darn excited about it.
Those are just a few of the blessings I happened to take photos of this week. I have so many more!  A wonderful family, a hilarious and supportive group of good friends, a husband who loves me and helps me and makes me laugh and is extremely good-looking, if I do say so myself, a home that while not perfect, and not overly clean at the moment, shelters us and is full of happy memories and loads of love, an island to live on, that as one new co-worker puts it, should be known as "Perfect Existence Island" instead of Prince Edward Island.  Yes, I think things are actually pretty wonderful in this little corner of the world right now, and I'll be sure to thank the One responsible tonight in a proper little chat.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spanish Frittata - An Easy Recipe on a Budget

Not too long ago, I put out a request on Facebook for favourite vegetarian and vegan meal ideas.  We're hoping that by eating more vegetable-based meals, we'll cut down on our ecological footprint, eat more healthfully, and save money on groceries.  I got lots of responses, and many of them pointed me to blogs and websites that I need to take a few minutes to peruse some time, and I look forward to it.  But what I was really hoping for was for a few specific recipes that friends and family make on a regular basis and really like.  This recipe was just one such meal idea, given to me by my friend Joanne (thank you Joanne!) and it was easy, fast, inexpensive, filling, tasty, and, now, a keeper for our family.  It also gave me a chance to try out my new cast iron frying pan that my parents brought back to me from their spring trip in Florida.  I love that pan (ok the idea of that pan!), but haven't really tried using it very much just yet--I'm a little scared of it, to be honest.  But it worked beautifully for this recipe and gave me a lot more confidence to try other recipes in it!

Spanish Frittata

2 cups peeled, cubed potatoes (I didn't quite have two cups, as I just had two potatoes left!)
1 onion, diced
5-6 farm fresh eggs
2 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste
grated Cheddar (or your favourite) cheese

Cook the potatoes and onions in olive oil in an oven-proof skillet on medium heat until potatoes are fork tender and lightly browned.  In a large glass measuring cup, beat eggs and water with a fork; add salt and pepper to taste.  When potatoes and onions are ready, pour egg mixture evenly into skillet.  Turn heat down to medium-low and cover, cooking until eggs are set.  When eggs are ready, place two or three spoonfuls of salsa on top and spread evenly over surface of eggs to create a thin layer.  Sprinkle with grated cheese.  Place pan under broiler in oven and broil, watching carefully, until the cheese reaches your desired level of meltiness-brown-deliciousness.  Take out (carefully with oven mitts!) and allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then slice into wedges like pizza and serve.

I spooned sour cream onto mine, topped it with snipped fresh chives, and served with whole wheat rolls, tomato slices, and steamed swiss chard.  And yes, I realize that swiss chard isn't really the most appropriate side (perhaps sliced avocado may have belonged a little more on that plate?) but I had picked it fresh from my garden this afternoon, I was excited about it, and I wanted to eat it. :)  Joanne suggested serving it with a salad, and the next time I have enough greens on hand to make a salad, I'll give it a try.

This is super easy and really tasty.  You can make it with local ingredients picked up at the farmers market, and it is easy on the budget.  Give it a try soon!

Potatoes and onion--mostly  just showing off my super new frying pan!

I used six eggs, and they were pretty big.  We had loads to feed our small family.

I really have a penchant for the action shots.  In goes the egg mixture!

The eggs are set now, after cooking, covered, for about 10 minutes or so.  If you're not sure, jiggle the pan.  The eggs should stay put!  Then, if you're really not sure, touch it in the middle.  It should feel firm.

I spread about 3 spoonfuls of fresh salsa (not homemade, I admit) over the top of the frittata.

A good sprinkle of cheddar makes it super yummy!
Here it is, fresh out of the oven.

Topped with sour cream, chives from the garden, locally hothouse grown tomato, and my very first harvest of swiss chard.  And... it didn't stick to the pan!  Woohoo!  It came out beautifully. :)

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hop #66 at Homestead Revival.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Samuel's Coffee House

I'm blogging over at Cradled in the Waves today, a group blog (loosely) about PEI, that I share with three other lovely ladies.  I'm supposed to post on Tuesdays, but due to some technical ridiculousness this week, I'm a few days late.  One of the topics we have at that blog is suggesting places to visit and things to do while on PEI, whether you're a resident of our fair isle or one of our many visitors.  So I shared about the coffee place that I go to every Friday with my friends, and that I just started working in as a cook.  Check out the post here, and I'll be back to the Hopeful Homesteader soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Composting Along

You may have already seen my post from a number of weeks ago about starting a compost pile with "a little help from a James-y". (That is what he says when he wants to help.  "Mummy, do you need a little help from a James-y?"  In a sing-song voice.  I love it.)  Well, it's still going and I think it is composting for sure, albeit rather slowly.  It is a large pile though, and I think I had been leaving it between turnings a little too long, and watering a little too infrequently.  But I am learning how to compost properly, as a result of this super fun initiative started up by Deanna of Little House in the Suburbs, called a "Compost-Along".  It is a bit like a knit-along, where a bunch of people do the same pattern and check in with each other's progress, but in this case, we're building compost piles and progressing through the decomposition process.  Sounds exciting?  Well, it is to me!

So week by week, we check in to Deanna's blog where she writes up instructions for where we should be in the process and tips to help us along.  I have a feeling I'll have a lot more success doing it this way, and I have a feeling I really need it.  To illustrate, follow me as I work through this week's composting homework.  She shared how to build your compost pile, but mine is already built.  So I went outside to turn it and moisten the material (if needed, I figured that with all that miserable welcome rain that we had over the weekend, it would be drenched):

Heading out to the compost pile, so I bring my trusty kitchen composter to empty, while I am thinking of it.

Ewwwww.  Well, as you can see, we've been eating a lot of fruit. :)

A riveting action shot of me sticking the pitchfork into the pile and attempting to turn it.  Not as easy as it looks.  And how is it possible that the grass clippings are entirely dry?!!

OK, so I am pretty much convinced that plant clippings from the middle of the pile (where it is dark and supposedly warm, if not hot) are still actually photosynthesizing.  What?  I even dug out a few forget-me-nots that had flowers of a quality that I could have given them to somebody!

Wondering if this pile is a little too big.  I wondered about taking a photo with a frame of reference, but I didn't know what to use and didn't want to drag James out of bed.

Attempting to soak the life out of (or into, as it were) this ridiculous Sahara of a compost pile.

I wasn't sure that a gentle shower was as effective as it could be so I decided to bring out the big guns.
Are you a veteran composter?  Can you help me?  Or are you a newbie like me, have already started a pile (or could collect the necessary materials this week) and feeling like joining in, even if a little late?  Composting together is fun!  This is why they invented the internet.  Stay tuned for a fascinating look next week at the microbial action in my backyard.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Planting My Plot at Helping Hands

Yesterday was our big kick-off, advertised for fun, snacks, games and gardening at 3 pm.  All week the weather forecast for Saturday had a high of about 18 and sunny.  Then, two days before the big day, the weather was 18, sunny, with cloudy periods.  The night before, cloudy, with a slight chance of showers in the afternoon.  Yesterday morning, I got up, and the forecast was still iffy on the showers, probably scattered and light, but the forecast for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was rain all around and I knew we wouldn't be that lucky to escape it.

Needless to say, it rained and rained and rained all afternoon.  And there was definitely no large, enthusiastic crowd at Helping Hands for our big opening day.  But a few of us hardy souls showed up and made the most of it!  (One even made an extremely brief appearance with her family to drop off fresh-from-the-oven banana chocolate chip muffins.  Thanks Andrea!)  I used the opportunity to plant the rest of my family's plot.  Friday night, after a day of small child stubbornness and blessed but tiring parenting, I got about 45 glorious minutes of planting to start my plot, all by myself, in the evening calm.  I got 32 square feet of 100 square feet planted with spinach, swiss chard, carrots, broccoli, parsley, dill, and summer savoury.  For the kick-off I went back and did almost the rest of it--I forgot the pea seeds, and I am waiting to root a few basil cuttings rather than growing them from seed.

The photos are pretty terrible, because it was pouring rain and I was soaked, muddy, cold, hungry, and in a rush.  I promise I'll post some artfully-taken ones as things develop through the season, but I'm so excited to have my long-awaited vegetable garden that I am posting them anyway!

I'll start with my planting plan (which I have almost perfectly stuck to):

The whole, obsessively planned and drawn, planting plan.

So there's a little overlap here, but you can get the gist of it.  I left out the cilantro, mostly because I accidentally planted summer savoury seeds in the cilantro holes, then felt absolutely fine with it because I don't like cilantro anyway.  Also, my much-loved San Marzano seedlings ended up not doing so well, so I left them out.  Sniff.
A blurry shot of red peppers, eggplant (hugged by marigolds), and bush pickle cucumber.

From left to right: Roma, Beefsteak, Lemon Boy, and Better Boy.  I SO hope these do well!  I know I could do better than tomato cages but they were 60 cents each and easy to install in the rain.  We'll see how it goes, and I'll modify next year likely.

Difficult to decipher photo of butternut squash, pumpkin, and sugar baby watermelon planted around teepee trellises.  Again, this is my first time growing squash/melon vertically, and we'll see what happens.  I used 8' 2"x2" pieces of untreated wood, lashed together at the top by zip ties, and buried between about 1- 1 1/2 feet.


My darling, pride-of-my-summer community garden bed.

 One highlight: the Journal Pioneer showed up with a camera to document us, covered in mud and soaked to the bone, but happy, planting pumpkins, raking, and digging in the bed.  I think he even got my Jamers in the photo.  Keep your eyes peeled this week for our photo!

Shared with Homestead Barn Hop #65