Monday, March 29, 2010

Quick Harvest Monday

As I was digging roots out of the ground for you, I thought, what would Veggie Patch readers prefer - the dirty or the clean photo?

From left to right: daylily tubers, parsnips from the pathetic parsnip patch last year, a parsley root and two self seeded parsnips looked great from last year.

Speaking of dirt, check out how much better our soil is than when we first moved in. You can see how this shovelfull reveals a sandy, lighter textured soil beneath the darker, more organic rich surface that is kept mulched with compost, leaf mould or other organic conditioner throughout the year. If I were to go a shovelful further, you would see a progressive lightening of texture and colour with the occasional greyish clay lens. Nice to see (not) hard work pay off.

The partially finished compost that it was topdressed with last fall is ready for another coat of organic matter after spring seeds have germinated.

You really wanted to see the dirty one, didn't you?

Roots with dirt on them, fresh from the garden.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your Veggie Patch is Big Business

One of the most wonderful things about gardening is the opportunities to share - ideas, seeds, plants. Little packages of promise, a seed transforms into food, medicine, craft materials, ground builder, habitat, beauty and more. A high percentage of the plants that I grow in my garden have been given to me by others though for more unusual specimens I have had to hunt long and go far, even for natives. For things I can't find through my seed networks, I rely on small seed companies that use organic, sustainable methods, grow their own seed, and prefer heritage varieties or those bred by traditional methods.

Cheap eats or at least plants that produce fruit at the local big, box store.

A couple of years ago, I noticed Big Business muscling in on this backyard veggie gig. It had always been there supplying sweet corn and onion starts but now it was selling 'heritage' varieties too.

Oh know it's that same blond skinny lady that's sold me shoes, cars, shampoo, and now carrots?

The bigger the Grow-Your-Own club grew, the more the Green Eyed Money Monster noticed. Eat-Local, Be-Healthy, Urban-Farming - the buzz words of a movement toward producing food more sustainably were cut out of the newspaper of trends and pasted ransom note style onto their own advertisements.

Going for a can of paint at your local box hardware store, you might just stumble into these bold displays and think "This is the year I will finally grow some of my own food." You might fill your basket with your very first packet of lettuce and tomatoes. Great! Get Growing!

The new outdoor room seems to be the Victory Garden. I'm sure it's just Martha's concern for the planet and interest in cooking...

In the meantime, if you are looking for alteratives, here are some sources.

Seed Trading Networks - There is lots of variation here from living seed banks such as Seeds of Diversty to round robins started from local plant/seed swapping sites like Plantcycle. Any place gardeners hang out, is a place to find people's trade lists such as Gardenweb and Homegrown Goodness. Of course, to trade you need seed and there are lots of great books at the local library on how to grow and collect your own garden seed. Realseeds in the UK has good descriptions for various plants. I can't forget Bloggers Seed Network. Lots of bloggers, in fact, will have seed lists and enjoy trading or just sharing seed. Speaking of free, some places like Wintersown are just that generous!

Garden Clubs, Nature Organizations, and other local plant sales - Plant enthusiast clubs, or demonstration gardens, like the Ottawa Horticultural Society and the Wildlife Fletcher Garden - Saturday June 5, 2010 from 9:30am - 12:30pm - commonly hold plant sales. Also watch out for the Rare and Unusual Plant sale held at the Experimental Farm on Sunday May 9, 2010 from 9:00am - 1:00pm. Even the City of Ottawa is giving away trees. Plant sales are often used as fundraisers too - watch for them as the season warms.

Local Seed Companies - Seedy Saturdays are a great way to learn who your local seed sellers are. Some of them don't have big operations or even websites as I learned when I met Mountain Grove Seed Co. from the Perth event. Organic / alternative food stores such as Rainbow Foods will ocassionally supply 'small seed.' The advantage of seed that is grown locally is that it will be better adapted to local conditions. You can get plants too such as from Yukos Open Pollinated Seed Plant Sale - I'll post details on her plant sale shortly, and I Wet My Plants - local blogger who also has a tomato sale.

Over the Fence - Don't just send those spready (okay, invasive) plants over (or under) the fence to your neighbour, pass some beans and tomato seed along as well. It is also the best way to get ahold of any plant with enthusiastic growth. Mint should not be bought! P.S. If you do buy mint, then just get it from the grocery store, stick those branches in water and watch them root before your very eyes. Some of the best varieties of veg have names like 'Italian Friend Tomato,' and 'Bert's Bean.' This might be slightly annoying to people who are trying to sort out all the multiple names for similar varieties but it doesn't change that it is a good plant!

Save Your Own Seed - I know, I already covered this one, but in the hard slog that is Autumn when we are cutting down the jungle sized weeds, hauling in pumpkins and almost wishing for snow to give us a break, don't forget to pull some seeds off your favourite plants. Your slightly too common amaranth or magenta spreen is something another person is yearning for. Besides, sharing is what us gardeners do.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Harvest Monday - Taste Test Take II

This San Michele cabbage head breezed through our unusually mild winter. I could harvest it but I think I'll let it, and its friends make seeds.

Apparently, this unseasonable spring decided to take a U-turn as soon as the official spring date had passed so after today's possible high of 9C, we are nose diving into forcasts that use the words: Freezing Rain, Possible Flurries and Double Subzero Celcius temperatures. I know spring will return but as I will have to wait, I am going to go outside and see what salad materials I can harvest from the still unfrozen ground.

Orach sprouts up early.

I have baby nodding onions (Allium cernuum) in the ground and decided to take a nibble today. At first, I thought, not much of a strong taste but then a gentle, mild quite pleasant oniony flavour developed after a couple of chews.

Pale yellow crocus half open on this partly cloudy day.

Also in the front garden were crocuses and violas a-bloom. Among them were various bellflowers. I tried two. The first was a small, yellow leafed variety which was not bad but as you can see it would take quite a bit to bulk up a salad and the common Campanula persicifolia (I believe). At first, I thought "tastes green, like grass" but really it was not bad and there was a fair amount of leaf available. Ox-eye daisy never really impresses me when it comes to green so I designate it 'pot herb' until I experiment more. The leaf buds are sometimes pickled as a caper substitute.

Zebra mallow edible but palatable?

After various grassy greens, I popped some Zebra Mallow - Malva sylvestris - into my mouth and though I find its texture a bit tough (preferring the salad version 'curly mallow'), it had a very pleasing sweetness. Oregano was quite good raw or maybe it was in comparison. I was also happy to see that my Celeriac made it through the winter. The early greens shooting up were very yummy, tasting just like the swollen root/stem.

Young salsify sending up grass thin leaves.

I also nibbled on some salsify - Tragopogon porrifolius - which is called 'oyster root' as is Scorzonera. It's leaves are thin, almost grasslike but they are not hairy like its perennial namesake and so the lettucy flavour could be better appreciated. Too bad it didn't produce more abundant spring shoots.

And now I'm going to hide indoor until spring reappears and its pea planting time.


Plants for a Future - Bellflowers
Pickled Ox-eye Daisy buds from Forbes Wild Food

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Organic Orchard - The Interview

One member of Homegrown Goodness, a plant breeder and enthusiast forum, always stuns me with the pictures of his orchard so I asked if he would be kind enough to agree to an interview. He agreed and here is more insight into what he grows.

Where is your orchard?

My orchard is situated in Burgundy where the climate is half continental - zone 7. We have our last frost around the middle of May and our first frost in the middle of October. In the winter, the temperature rarely gets below - 10°C (but we had -18°C this winter ! ). Unprotected aerial parts of fig trees were almost all "burned." Fortunately, I grow some of them under a tunnel.

How many trees / fruiting bushes / types of fruit do you have on your property and where did you get them from?

I grow approximately 130 to 150 trees. There are maybe 100 different varieties, mainly apple trees (60-70%), pear trees (10%), along with plums, cherries, peaches, figs, apricot, but I don't count on them because of the climate. 2009 was an exceptionnal year and we had big harvests. I also have 40-50 fruiting bushes. They came from catalogs, tree nurseries which grow their trees organically. I can't name all of these, but here is some of my favorites:

Pépinière Burri
Christophe Delay Pépiniériste
Pepinieres Chataignon Vial
I obtained many cuttings from "Les croqueurs de pommes" - information at bottom

Would you describe a season of harvest from what becomes ripe first to what is the last fruit to ripen?

We eat the first strawberries in May from inside the tunnel. I had selected very perfumed varieties that produce from May to October to avoid frost. Next come the raspberries, blackberries, and then the first pears "précoce de trévoux" in July, apples "transparente blanche", "vista bella" in July-August, etc ... and finally the Physalis peruviana. We can store apples until May- June such as "sainte-germaine, "Jolibois," "querina," and "belle fille de Salins."

What varieties are the work horses (most reliable and productive) of your orchard? Which are the rarest or most interesting?

If I had to plant another time, I would choose 80% of varieties that produce every year (or nearly) and are resistant to diseases, such as "querina," "jolibois," "reine des reinettes," "belle fille de Salins," "reinette d'Amboulne" for the apple trees. For the pear trees, my selection could be "conférence," "sucrée de Montluçon," "précoce de Trévoux" and a pear to be cooked like "Saint-Remy." As for grapes, I would choose "perdin," "aladin," "pinot noir." For the remaining 20%, I would select for taste, sometimes exceptional in my opinion, such as "tiuffat," "pomme cloche," "rayotte de Nommay," "patte de loup," "reinette ananas" (apples), "Joséphine de Malines" (pear), cerise "belle magnifique" (cherry), "des Béjonnières" (plum) "ronde de Bordeaux," "pastilière," "dalmatie" (figs), and "velvet" (peach).

How do you grow your fruit? Any tips or tricks that you would like to pass on?

The most natural ways possible : I use compost and I almost never spray. Sometimes I use plant infusions: mainly comfrey, nettle, equisetum. I also sometimes apply powder of basalt. The idea is to make the trees stronger and to accept that all is not perfect. For example, we can't avoid completely the troubles caused by the carpocapse - coddling moth. These fruits are used for making juice.

Do you do any other gardening / growing?

We produce all the vegetables we need as many gardeners do : potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn, parsnip, garlic... very classic ! ...but I tried unusual plants in a classical garden (without a total success) to grow amaranth for grains and quinoa. Producing the nearly perfect protein is a dream for the moment.

Are you involved in any organizations?

Kokopelli: I think it's not necessary to introduce this well known association. I save some seeds (just for sharing ) for the organization.

Concerning fruit trees, I was involved in the "croqueurs de pommes" a funny name meaning "Apple biters" for a french organization saving heirloom varieties, mainly fruit trees.

A local association (no link, sorry, where everybody shares what they know : botanic, recognizing and using wild plants, grafting (my field), etc...

I would like to add some links of magazines / associations which were very important and help me on the way :- - I discovered them in 1982.


Thank you Gérard for your work in creating this inspiring orchard.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Harvest Monday - Spring Taste Test

The unusually warm weather we've been having is that NSD (No Snow Day) is fast approaching. We'll probably get a few flurries before spring really settles in but tomorrow the forecast is calling for an incredible 15C!

So for harvest monday, I did some taste testing of various spring greens as I made a salad.

Corn salad looking lush in March

The bulk was provided by corn salad - Valerianella - also known as lamb's lettuce and it really is a valuable crop right around lambing time. I did not seed these lovely, crunchy, mild tasting leaves as they are reliable self seeders. They have slowly spread outward from the original spot they were sown to cover a good 8 foot wide radius, just enough for plenty of winter and spring salads. Besides being abundant in spring, they are also available in the coldframe all year - yes, you read me right.

To this mild backdrop, I added flavour.

Egyptian onion did not disappoint, providing succulent onion tasting hollow spears. Bloody dock was crisp and slightly sour as expected from a member of the Rumex genus. Sorrel was lemony and chicory was mildly but pleasantly bitter. Horseradish shoots, as always, were an interesting addition with their pleasantly pungent, slippery flavour. And there was a mound of parsley from overwintered plants, tasting just as it should.

Bloody dock opening its decorative red veined leaves.

Surprises in great tastes for spring shoots were Red Valerian - Centranthus ruber - which had an excellent mild, sweet crunchy flavour like the best lettuce and English Daisy - Bellis perennis - whose leaves were almost peppery like arugula. Funnily enough, Plants for a Future had different impressions of the quality of these greens. Maybe it is in the amount of frost they received.

In my so-so category included salad burnet - Sanguisorba minor - whose reputed cucumber taste is always lost on me though I did pick up something vaguely gasoline like. Scorzonera has a nice nutty taste but it is hard to appreciate because the leaves are hairy. Also, Mallow - Malva moschata - is a bit too fiborous for fresh eating in my opinion. I prefer the seedpods.

Salad burnet takes over the brick.

Plants that I did not swallow included yarrow - Achillea millefolium. It had a prickly unpleasant texture which made me spit it out. I think I'll leave it to medicinal uses. Also, creeping sedum was too acrid. I do like Sedum telephium whose succulent leaves were excellent when I had them on a wild weed walk while they were growing under deciduous leaf cover.

That's all for today but enough to full my salad bowl. Lots more plants to nibble on in future days. Welcome back spring, early though it may be!

First flower of spring - winter aconite. I also have a viola almost in full bloom - crazy!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gardening on a Gabriola Slope - Terracing

No, not my garden. My mom's. They also have daffodiles a-bloom.

My parents have carved them out a little oasis on a gulf island in the northern Pacific Ocean. You know these people, they call you in February to report blooming bulbs and all that. And by carved out, I mean literally as the land was levelled out so that a house could be build leaving a steep slope looming behind them.

Terracing of a steep slope.

As my mother says, "This bank is at a 45 degree angle and weeding was treacherous for someone who cannot walk at such a slant. The soil was not good either and plants/bushes did not really thrive. The winter rains began to wash the soil down and it looked awful."

They decided to borrow a technique from hill farmers of old by terracing.

"We started at the bottom, drilling holes through the mini-ties (four layers thick) to accommodate long rebars to hold up the logs that shore the soil of each bed.The rebar went into the soil three feet below the ties. The first terrace is quite deep, about three feet, and required a lot of soil. The second and third are not quite so deep. Filling was hard work. Buckets of soil were hauled one at a time along the walkway, down the steps and poured into the area. We estimate that approximately five yards of soil were used for the whole project." The side mini-ties are re-barred to the soil in the same way."

I take it that the soil was delivered at the top of the hill which makes sense if you knew the lay of their land.

More terracing with soil added to the what I like to call the pre-soil of the gulf islands - read crowbar required.

"Once the lowest terrace was full, we proceeded to fill the next. I planted iris along the bed and the next. On the fourth layer, there are three lithadoras, one Himalyaan sarcococca and several more irises. My back complained bitterly as we moved assembly line - putting in soil, planting the iris rhisome, along with some tulips I'd pulled up from another spot, and then putting in more soil around the roots. Dad's arms were equally unhappy as the soil was quite wet from all the rain we have been having in January and February."

Profile shot of the terraced gardens.

"The first layer was the last we planted. From the back garden were transplanted three types of Oregano, two kinds of sage, French tarragon, winter savory, blue catmint, lemon balm and chives. I also planted three vincas on the edge of the second terrace and in the future they will hand over, creating a nice display later on this year."

"The fennel was removed from the veggie garden as I've heard they retard the growth of beans. No wonder they were so pitiful last year. Now the only herbs left in the back garen are two bay trees and a lovely big rosemary bush."

Oh that's the other things those West coasters do, boast about their outdoor rosemary and bay! Nice.

Hellebores blooming since early February of course. They are called the Christmas Rose on occasion... har har har.

So mom, I'm going to make you promise to send us an update on that wonderful garden, including the veggie patch that we enjoyed last year. P.S. My mom won a ribbon for her Trombocino squash at the fair last year - most unusual vegetable I believe.

Really Easy Seed Starting

This is a post for a friend who will be balcony gardening this year. It's a simple technique for starting tomatoes if you just don't have any space. Some of you will recognize this as a variation on wintersown.*


Cat eating your window ledge tomato starts? Want to give your squash seedlings a head start but don't have any more space under the lights? Plants always die on you because you don't have time to harden off? Plants don't perform as well as you would like with regular wintersown techniques?

I like to call this the Indoor - Outdoor technique and I plan on taking pictures of it to the end - whatever that end might be. I have had success so far.

What's going on in there? My eldest looks in the bottle mini greenhouse/planter.

Cherry Tomato Starts*

Step 1: Get a plastic jug or pop bottle and poke holes for drainage at the bottom. Cut in half. You can cut some windows in the side for further ventilation later.

Juice container with being pierced with a metal BBQ squewer

Step 2: Put seed starting mix / dirt in the bottom half. Water well. Put in some seeds


Step 3: Replace the top by squeezing in a bit at the sides. There are other ways of doing this, check out wintersown for more ideas of containers and techniques.

Step 4: Put outside during the day when the temperature is above 4 C. This is why it is best to start around April 1st but this year, with the unusually nice weather we've been having, I started now. However, for vining starts like squash, I'd wait until at least mid-April if you are planning on putting them out mid to late May. Later if you aren't planting out until June.

Yes, those are some violas started this way already up and growing.

Step 5: If the day is especially hot, open up slightly for more circulation. Entirely remove the cover if seedlings have been exposed to wind for a few days. You can also place seedlings in a box so they get less wind. If very warm, you may also want to put them in a lightly shady spot (if possible) while you are at work all day.

Step 6: Take in your planting bottle each evening unless the night temperatures are above 6C (margin of error for frost). Remember to water frequently if it has not rained or is sunny.

When the seedling is between 6-8 weeks old and danger of frost is passed, you can plant in final location. In Ottawa this varies from mid May to the beginning of June.

More pictures to come as project progresses.

Have fun!

* Tomatoes, squash can quite easily be started using regular wintersowing techniques. I like this method because I find frost tender plants get a bit bigger. I sometimes also germinate seed indoors and then give them the indoor / outdoor treatment from when they are tiny seedlings so they don't spend any time under lights but they are jump started into growing before nighttime temperatures would be conducive to that.

So feel free to just sow and leave them outside. That'll work too. You may have to water on occasion during dry weather.

Don't miss this!

I plan on using this page to put up interesting events for gardeners going on around Ottawa.


May 15, 16, 22 and 23rd: Yuko's Open Pollianted Seed's 9th Annual Heirloom Tomato and Perennial Plant Sale.

May 29, 30 - Heirloom Plant and Garden Weekend at the Upper Canada Village

June 1 - Hida Manns comes to talk on Organic Agriculture as a Buffer to Climate Change. It will be held Tuesday, June 1st at 7pm in the Grey Room at the Bronson Centre, 211 Bronson Avenue. Contact Canadian Organic Growers (or myself) for more information.

June 5 - Fletcher Wildlife Garden Native Plant Sale from 9:30am to 12:30pm


Just Foods was a source for many of these events. They are holding 'Food for All: Join Food Action Planning Conversations.' Also check out their page on Community / Allotment Gardens for those of you who need more space. They also have a newsletter with interesting events about food, farms and gardening. This is where you can find the Buy Local guide.

Last updated: May 17, 2010


Cool Stumbles

Tree Nuts is about promoting nut growing in Canada. I just stumbled across it and it seems to contain lots of interesting information relevant to the area.

Other Links

Ottawa Horticultural Society Calendar
Green Ottawa Directory
Ecology Ottawa resources
Just Food Ottawa

Know someone who suffers from Food Insecurity? Dial 211 for information on local Food Banks and other programs.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Keeping the bugs out or is that in?

First a note: I have a lot of posts to share with you from an interview with a fantastic French fruit grower to lots of locals programs and events to tips on creating a terraced garden from my parents whose gulf island paradise is in spring bloom. I'll try to space them out to give each subject its due.

For those of you that can't share in the fun of seedy days - really Daphne? Maybe you can start one - here's my take on the Eco Farm Day Bug Talk concentrating on tips for urban 'farmers.'


Ladybug larva on beans

When dealing with a pest bug, it is important not to just think of its favourite food plant but the whole garden. Simon Lachance from the Agricultural College of Alfred, a satellite of Guelph University spoke on how to manage the environment to control pests in a field setting but his recommendations are useful for the urban garden. In fact, we have one advantage over larger farms and that is diverse plantings – and you thought that you were at a disadvantage having to stuff all those plants into such a small space. Though Dr. Lachance was loath to make any grand proclamations, he did show a slide that showed how pest problems decreased with increasingly diverse and permanent plantings – think managed forest. As you moved toward more temporary plantings, such as rows and rows of the same annual vegetable, the opposite occurred.

Let’s take the words permanent and diverse and explore what might be happening:

Diversity is quite the buzz word, almost shorthand for a healthy habitat. Numerous creatures of every stripe form a complex web of interactions – they are eating and being eaten, helping and harming. Each plant could not exist alone and does not. The little green worm that lops around your cabbage leaf is innocent of any malevolent intent though it might aggravate the urban gardener and farmer alike, the parasitoid that injects its egg into the soft flesh appreciates its existence as do the ants that drag off its dead carcass and ultimately the next plant that grows there. The trick is not to get rid of the pests but to lower their prevalence along with the damage they cause by not making it too easy for them.

Mix up plantings within the bed.

As advocates of companion planting will tell you, some plants seem to grow better together. There are various reasons why that may be but one fascinating reason is that certain interplantings may confuse pests. Insects use sensory cues to find the delicious plants among the other ones. Perhaps they can 'smell' those butternut squash but when they get up close, they are confused by the visual cue of a giant corn stock sticking out the middle and land on it. Now it takes them longer to find their snack.


Chemical signals that attract certain pests may repel others such as the famous example of planting carrots and onions together to ward off each others pests. It also works in reverse. Certain plants may be more attractive than your precious vegetable so that the flea beetles lines up at the wild mustard rather than the broccoli. To use another example, you can then wander about picking the Colorado potato beetle off your Physalias before they notice your eggplants. In my garden, this chubby striped beetle is all over the early emerging ‘food source’ Chinese Lanterns which is why I keep this highly invasive plant in my garden. They can eat as much as they want of it and it keeps on going to produce some cut flowers in the fall.

It also helps to mix up the plants around your vegetable bed. In an agricultural setting, this may mean allowing fallow fields to grow and hedge rows to become mixed plantings of trees, shrubs and plants. This provides habitat for pest predators and parasitoids. In the urban setting, you don’t have to have what might be perceived as a messy field beside your veggies, but instead can surround them with an ornamental border. As urban yards are small, the nearby trees, foundation plantings and decorative ponds will all help to increase diversity of not only plants but habitats.

Most of us in an urban setting who are really into edibles have probably already come around to the idea that the entire yard is potential food forest anyhow, so you may already be mixing your tomatoes in with your blanket flower which brings me to the next big point.

Permanent Plantings

Not only can this mean perennials including the woody backbone, but also annuals / biennials that are allowed to flower. Many predators that feed on common garden pests require plant food such as nectar at some point in their lives. Dr. Lanchance specifically mentioned members of the carrot, aster and legume families as being beneficial to the beneficials. Before your eyes start rolling back in your head as you start redesigning your veggie patch once again, you’ll be happy to hear that you can use some of your existing plantings. Many commonly grown vegetables are part of these three families so just let them go to flower instead of pulling them up right.

Domesticated carrot in flower.

Some examples:

(Apiaceae) Carrot family: Um, carrots… also dill, caraway, fennel, parsley, coriander, parsnip and chervil that are commonly grown. Carrot, parsley and parsnip will overwinter with varying success in the north. Perennial vegetables in this family include sweet cicely and lovage.

(Astereaceae) Aster family: This includes lettuce, salsify, scorzonera, and chicory. The last two are perennial and all of these will probably self seed giving you a free crop as well as crop protection by attracting beneficials. Besides, lettuce trees – bolted lettuce – look neat.

(Fabaceae) Legume family: Peas, beans and the like. Some perennial members include apios and redbud – early flowering tree for mild regions of Canada.

A full season of bloom keeps the nectar train going all growing year. But I hardly need to encourage anyone to grow early and late flowers do I?

My new messy garden?

Yes, I am suggesting that you don’t run around the garden nipping and tucking everything into perfection. Some weeds will even help the beneficials though any competition may limit yield. I am even suggesting that after removing diseased material from the garden that you leave some of that dead matter alone allowing it to return to the soil or provide winter shelter for your wild friends. However, if you have a particular bug bugging you then you may want to look into how it hides out during the cold season and remove that particular habitat from vulnerable areas. This may include taking out host plants or mulch. I hesitate to write this as mulch almost always provides more benefits than otherwise.

For most of us we are dealing with a diversity of edibles in a small area with a diversity of pests and beneficials to such an extend that it is impossible to do the natural math so allowing more rather than less is almost certainly the best strategy.

Long live diversity.


Wildlife Fletcher Garden has lots of great articles for increasing diversity and attracting wildlife in your garden

Pollination Canada, a Seeds of Diversity initiative to look at this important class of beneficials.

Companion Planting page by Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spring in your step Seedy Saturday 2010

People chatting seeds and plants.

It was a gorgeous day for Seedy Saturday in Ottawa which put extra sunshine into everyone's smiles. I look forward to this event every year, not only as an opportunity to get some seeds (that's always great) but also to meet up with friends.

Some old friends...
and by that I mean well worn in the memory files

The first thing you see as you walk in is the trade table. My seeds are in little plastic baggies with indelible ink written across the front. We'll call this minimalist compared to the cute designs of I Wet My Plants. Here she is laying her loot for others to collect. We did some tomato seed trading but I only had one variety that she was interested in OSU blue - I think she's seen it all.

Garden Blogger and Tomato Plant seller from I Wet My Plants

Another lovely lady dropped off some very well labelled alpine plant seeds to which I nearly shouted "score" as I picked up Allium karataviense. She was also my source of Kinnikinnick though this is a slow, finnicky plant so I'm not getting my hopes up BUT gardeners are nothing if not optimistic.

Beside them was aptly Seeds of Diversity, "a Canadian volunteer organization that conserves the biodiversity and traditional knowledge of food crops and garden plants." These gals were having a good time. Then I bumped into the gentleman at the Canadian Organic Growers, we'd had a chat at Eco Farm Day too so it seems that we're moving in the same circles. Also, there were USC Seeds of Survival, and Just Foods, to name a few.

All smiles at the Seeds of Diversity booth.

After the tendors*, we get to the vendors where I bumped into Val, the head administrator of Ottawa Plantcycle, hanging out near the honey. She spoke to me about the possiblilty of more trading and giving opportunties in the form of a plant event in the spring. If you haven't been to this 'freecycle' for plants, it's a fun community.

Mmmm... yummy country style eats.

...some newer friends...

Among the books, food, other eco-products and of course seeds, I saw Cottage Gardener and hopefully took a slightly less stunned picture of her than a few years ago. There were no shortage of seed vendors including Tourne-Sol who was had some unusual seed/plant such as red broomcorn, chufa nuts and two kinds of Jeruselum Artichokes.

Cottage Gardener overlooking her busy stand.

After all this frenzied filing through seed packets, I decided to go outside for a bit more of that glorious Vitamen D when someone came up to me and asked, "Are you Hortiphilia? We've been on your new blog." I have to admit to being surprised so I asked how he had unmasked my identity to which he replied that I had been covering the event for a couple years now - true - and that he figured the snap happy picture taker must be yours truly. Was there really no press there or am I just that obvious? Anyhow, for recognizing me, let's recognize one of the many value added vendors Honey Pie Hives and Herbals - "Make Pie, not War."

That has nothing to do with honey. You're right. It's some pitcher plants from Connaught Nursery: Ottawa Valley Native Plants & Wildlflowers.

...and some that were brand new

The crowd was crowdful and among them were many green thumbs not in my memory bank, including this representative from Steward Bags. Not only is she providing a useful product but she has given me the opportunity to mention what I consider the hypocrisy of grocery stores discouraging the plastic bag for their alternative, usually sold at the cash, the slightly longer lasting plastic bag. We have a bunch of old cloth conference bags picked up from years at second hand stores but they aren't so easy to find now.


This year, my impression was that there were lots of talks, but less stuff for kids though I didn't have my darlings with me so I might have missed something. Most importantly, there were no shortage of seeds and the trade table was hopping.

Speaking of new - Perth joins the party

Event was held at the Perth Legion, which I understand is also the farmer's market.

On another undeniably beautiful day, I stopped by the first annual Perth Seedy Sunday. There was breathing room here but still a good turnout. The talks were given on the stage creating an interesting (unobtrusive) live performance. While I was there, the subject was seed starting.

My daughter checks out some potatoes. There were also eggs and farm produced goodies.

Among the locals was a new seed company Mountain Grove Seed Co. She had a nice selection of vegetables, herbs and flowers. We had a chat about kids playing with seeds and even made a few seed exchanges! She doesn't yet have a website but if you live in the area, look her up.

Here is Dawn from Mountain Grove Seed Co. showing me her products, seeds and smile.

The last thing I saw was their trade table where I dropped off a few more packets of my minimalist labelled seed packets before picking up some citron and naked pumpkin seed.

And now I go home to stuff my seed tower with but more planting promise.

*Tendors: Unselling volunteers tending their stand


Seedy Saturday near your place

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Update on seed trades and giveaways AND
reminder Seedy Saturday

The last mailout of seeds ready to stuff into envelopes.

I'm happy to report that at the end our fiscal year, the completely FREE seed giveaway was a great success. I had people requesting seed from all over Canada and the US. As part of larger seed trading / giveaway networks, including the International Seed Network hosted by Bifucated Carrot, I had the priveledge of sending seeds cross the Atlantic as well.

Most of my extra seed is gone but I did keep a bit aside for the last event that is this weekend.


Seedy Saturday Ottawa
March 6, 2010
Fun, food, seed traders, vendors and more!


Also, I hear Perth is having their first annual Seedy Sunday on March 7 so you could make a weekend out of it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Harvest Monday
Snow Melt Holiday Edition

Mint perks in the low snow area near the house, ready to rumble with the other plants.

What about Eco Farm Day 2010?


I suppose most of my fellow Canadians are celebrating some sort of winter sports related win but I'm more excited about my own made up holiday - March 1st - Day 1 of The Great Snow Melt. In most years, by the end of the month, there are scraps of snow left around my city dwelling. Many years, there is no snow at all and I start playing 'identify' that shoot.

This is the day when we sit at the top of the rollercoaster poised, breathless, waiting to fly down through the rush of spring and summer. The whole growing year is ahead of us. Several months from now it will be hard to imagine the monochrome winter face of Ottawa.

In celebration of this day, I'm going into the open garden to harvest something. I wouldn't normally be able to do that as we would still have a good couple feet of snow cover but this year has been a fairly dry winter so in places I can see green. Wish me luck.

-- 20 minutes later --

I'm back. Sage is harvestable poking out of the snow. The mints and various brassicas are starting to get perky but most exciting of all is this:

Jeruselum Artichokes - first open garden harvest 2010.

The Jeruselum Artichokes are planted on the west side of our house in sandy loam. Those that were within a foot of the foundation were harvestable!

Yaaaaaaaaank. Ground is unfrozen near foundation of house. When I cut the stalks down in the fall, I leave pulling length for easier yanking in the spring.

Tada! Jeruselum Artichokes. There would probably be more if I went rooting around in the nearby soil.


Eco Farm Day 2010

In other news, I attended the Canadian Organic Growers conference held this past weekend in Cornwall, Eco Farm Day 2010. My favourite speakers presented Farming with Fungi not Fertilzer and Managing the Environment to Control Insect Pests, both of which I would like to share with you in depth so you'll have to wait to make sure that I got my facts straight before I post on them. Also, look for posts on Watershed Conservation Programs in the area and the intiative Growing Up Organic.



Standard Wiki on Jeruselum Artichoke or Sunchoke - a perennial member of the sunflower family which produces abundant edible tubers.

Growing taste talks Jeruselum Artichokes - nice set of links there if you want to know more and more and MORE! Why wouldn't you?

Just a couple notes of my own on sunchokes

1. It's oft quoted perhaps even by myself once or twice that Sunchokes are invasive in a garden setting. However, I bumped into a sage writer who pointed out that the shoots is easy to identify and all you have to do is tug it out (see above). True. They are hardly the same as say mint or Bishop's weed (shudder). What they are is vigorous. I think this is one plant that rests on the right side of manageable if you are willing to do the managing.

2. They contain inulin which can cause gas. It is also found in beans. I don't have any problem eating them but you have been forwarned. Apparently, the raw tuber is gassier than the cooked one.

3. The flavour is delicious but unlike regular cultivated vegetables so I can't really describe it. It will permeate the dish it is cooked in unlike blander roots such as potatoes so expect it to feature if you add it to stews etc...

4. Some people peel the roots but it's unnecessary and finicky. Instead break off any knobbly bits to facilitate easy cleaning, scrubbing away the dirt then use knobbly bits and larger tubers whole or diced, depending on your recipe.

5. They don't store well for me in my slightly dry cellar but have done pretty well wrapped in a plastic bag at the back of the fridge. If you live in a mild winter region, you may be able to harvest all winter. For slightly less mild areas, it may work to heavily mulch the ground after a couple hard frosts to make harvesting possible in winter.

6. They are harvested by wild food foragers and can be quite common in areas due to their 'vigorous' nature.

7. Propogation is mostly vegetative especially in the north, so you can plant tubers that you buy at the market or through suppliers for your own garden. If you live locally and would like some sunchokes for your own garden, contact me as soon as your ground is workable.