Friday, April 30, 2010

Tra la la la la la Trillium - Flowering Food

It's the time of year, that you just feel like singing. The spring bulbs are in full bloom and salad plants are pumping out leaf after tender leaf. As I was tip toeing through the tulips, I marvelled at the explosion of spring edibles. Mostly they are eaten as greens before they give a second time by producing blooms. Here are two that I treat very differently.

Trillium grandiflorum looking gorgeous in spring. If you don't have any in your yard then you might feel like this is one of those you have to pay for it kind of plants because generally speaking the black flies come out around the same time the Trilliums are in full bloom.

The first time someone told me trillium shoots were edible (not the flower), I reacted like any sane person and said, "That's nice but they are too pretty to eat." Then, curiousity got the better of me and I nibbled on some. Just like promised, and this doesn't always happen in the world of different digestables, they were reminiscent of sunflower seeds. I didn't eat too many though I would of if I could of... in other words, if I lived by woods brimming with these beauties, and could harvest a couple small, special additions for salad without harming the general population. For now, I'm filing it under Interesting.

The common sweet violet does not need to leap tall buildings, it can just steadily surround them with its prolific seeding and rhizome creation. This means you need feel no guilt when liberally harvesting.

The sweet violet - Viola odorata - on the other hand, does not suffer from drastic harvesting. The new leaves are a good green for salad or cooking but I find that you have to get them just at the right time, which is just before flowering. Afterwards, you can use the flowers as decorative garnishes, either sugared or not.

Both of these flowers beautify the yard with trilliums giving a bright splash of colour in late spring under deciduous trees or other good soil in part shade. They will disappear as summer wears on so are best planted where another plant can take over the hard work of looking good. Mine are planted amoung daylilies.

Violets keep on going once the flush of flower has passed. They can make a dense ground cover, being happy in both sun and shade and taking fairly dry soil in my experience. Just be aware, that like any ground cover, they spread. Good if you want to cover ground, bad if you only want a few here and there.


Violet flower recipes

Eat all your violet flowers

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Harvest Monday - Scorzonera

This is the variety Belstar, from Europe though there are North American suppliers.

As I had to remove some scorzonera roots when I took out the back vegetable garden patch, I thought I'd finally get around to trying them and I was not disappointed. These were three year old roots and they had no hint of bitterness, were not fiborous or woody. The flavour was delicate and sweet, not overwhelming though I peeled them this time. Next time (when I find my veggie brush), I will eat them with the skins on. One word of caution, if you don't wear gloves and peel the roots, your hands will be temporarily stained orange. It goes away after a couple days...

A whole meal in one plant. The roots and shoots were cooked separately.

I had been harvesting the leaves which are commonly referred to as a delicious lettuce substitute. I find them a bit hairy raw but sauteed with leeks and sprinkled with red wine vinegar, they were excellent.

It looked as if you might be able to make crown cuttings and replant part of the root. Further experimentation needed!

Flowering Food - the stone fruit

To improve on my last post's photographic failure, I've tried to capture some of the beauty of the stone fruit that have just burst into bloom in my garden including plum and cherry.


A bee appreciates the Evans cherry tree - a sour / sweet, small cherry tree / bush. Despite the multiple and/ors, as far as my kids are concerned, the taste is nothing but good.


Tulips from an old garden breaking through layers of dirt, landscaping cloth, and rock to bravely bloom every year.


Many plum blossoms may mean many plums if we're lucky! Our Montreal plum, as hardy as it's name suggests, and self fertile, is capable of giving a generous crop though it doesn't always oblige.

There are a surprising number of quite hardy cherry, plum and chum (midway between) fruits that will crop in Ottawa. You will even find apricot for sale at the nursery but these are suseptible to late frosts which damage blossoms and limit fruit production. I've seen plumcots for sale as well. I'll let you guess what cross they are. Several people I know have had luck with the peach 'Reliance' so if you have a sheltered spot, you could give it a try.

If this inspires you to plant some stone fruit, don't forget to check if they need a pollinator. Trees grafted with several varieties can get around this problem along with providing you with variety in a small space.

Gratuitous tulips picture.

I give up, what's a plumcot

These are some of my favourite chums and other hardy stone fruit descriptions from Shallow Creek Nursery in Alberta.

Eco Stewardship Fair and Can't Take a Pic

This Saturday I was volunteering as a booth person at the Eco Stewardship Fair for the Canadian Organic Growers of which I am a proud member. Membership, by the way, not only gives you a good feeling because you are supporting a worthy cause but if you pay more than 35 dollars, you get a quality newsletter filled with articles about gardening and growing and access to their lending library.


Not their lending library, but the Nature Lover's Book store in Lanark.

Anyhow, I would show you more pictures such as of the Almonte Herb Garden's baby plants for sale, various conservation authorities and vendors of eco friendly products but I just didn't have my photographic game on. So instead here are some people facing the other way.


For what it's worth, I enjoyed strolling between the displays, of this free fair and invite you next year to come out, have a free cookie and maybe even find some kindred spirits.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day - Flowering Food

Flowering Food showcases the beauty of edible plants but not all of these are flashy flowers. Yesterday between the nodding yellow heads of daffodil, the darkening lipstick shades of tulips and the breaking buds of fruit trees, were the ribes and honeyberry plants with their delicate subtle beauty.

Red currant covered in racemes of green flowers.

Ribes flowers are the kind that make you stop and search. They help you change scale and see the little things. These are not drive by wow flowers but I always try and include treasures like these that you can only find when you visit the garden up close.

Gooseberry singular flowered goodness.

This was the first year I have grown the Josta berry - a cross between a gooseberry and a black currant - so their flowers were a pleasant surprise.

Josta berry's unusual brown flowers.

I remember the first couple times that I had searched for information on edible Lonica plants, I was put off by them being described as poor flavour, not well yielding, not worth the effort, not attractive enough so I was nothing but thrilled to discover that they were very hardy, could be quite productive and were tasty. Best of all, they are among the first berry plants to give a harvest.

Honeyberry - Part of the honeysuckle family that produces edible blue berries very early in the season.


Article on Honeyberry / Haskap from DNA gardens

Lots and lots of Ribes from Plants for a Future - I love this site but you have to double check the information. This page gives a list of some of the many species out there. Look for the tasty, locals for a good fit for your garden.

I pledge to live with the Earth, not merely on it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Alliums are yum

My children and hubby's neatly planted rows of garlic with Bunching Onion in the background.

When I first started gardening, I grew three members of the onion family: garlic, onions and chives. They were all tasty and fun to grow, especially the chives that thrived on neglect among perennial flowers. I like tasty plants that don't need coddling so decided to find more. Here are some of the best:

Garlic Chives - Allium tuberosum: Flat bladed, pleasantly garlic/onion flavoured leaves. There are lots of variety beyond the classic white flowered invader (I'll get to that) that you usually see around. It makes for a nice low growing ground cover or edging if you are willing to pull out the endless seedlings that come up on the other side of the line. Looking up garlic chives and asian cuisine will give you some ideas of how to use including blanching the leaves or flowering stalks for a different flavour.

This perennial is commonly started by seed but if you have a friend with a patch, then they probably have plenty to share. Otherwise, this is a great candidate for in situ winter sowing as it self sows quite reliably in my garden...

Walking onions starting to put out feet.

Walking Onions - Allium cepa proliferum group: Egyptian, topsetting or walking onions are a variety that produces bulbs at the top of its flower stalk which eventually falls over planting these babies in the ground nearby. I really adore the flavour of walking onions all year though some claim that they get a bit too strong or fiborous after the summer heat rises. Mine grow in part shade under a plum tree at the west side of the house. There are a couple varieties of these onions, including tree 'catawaissa' onions that form a second tier of topsets from the original topsets. Mostly used as a green onion, the small above ground bulbs can pickled or otherwise used as onions. You can also use the bulb at the base though.

Plant topsets as soon as they are available in late summer/fall.

Potato Onions - Allium cepa aggregatum group: Also called multiplier onions, you plant a tuber, and watch it form a bunch for the price of one at its base. These onions can be used like regular onions. They are very similar to shallots.

Fall planted like garlic. They are ready to harvest around the same time too. Replant the best bulbs. Many varieties have long storage lives.

Bunching onions ready really early

Bunching Onions - Allium fistulosum: More green onions if you haven't had enough of chives and garlic chives and walking onions. How could you have enough? Another very hardy, perennial onion with a wonderful rich flavour. It is also called Welsh onion, Japanese onion, scallions or bunching onion. The last two name can be confused with Allium cepa varieties that are meant to be harvested young. They will brave the conditions of the cold frame well giving you a long season of harvest.

Perennial that can be started from seed in spring.


Next post will explore wild, edible alliums and rarer onion treats.

Great supplier for multiplier and topsetting onions, as well as other fabulous heritage edibles is Heritage Harvest Seed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The BIG News
On loss and new beginnings

I should have had some other news at this time of the year. Last summer, we found out that we were expecting a new addition to the family. Unfortunately, we lost our son midway through pregnancy. This loss changed our life's direction, and now we are planning to move to a new, rural location. I know that I don't normally write about my personal life beyond gardening on this blog and I debated whether or not I was going to until I pressed Publish Post but at the same time I want to share the news of our boy's existence. Though we will never know his favourite colour, what his voice sounded like or what he would be when he grew up, we know we loved him and felt pain for his passing.

My beautiful bit of dirt that gave my family years of delicious food.

On a less serious note, selling this urban oasis, means I had to remove my back veggie patch. This is the one where I put in most of my annual crops though at the time shovel hit dirt, it was already filled with volunteer kale, mustard, some florence fennel coming up and lettuce. The garlic, potato onions and shallots were all growing strong too. I am not sure how much they will like being transplanted but I figured why waste them? Maybe the new owners will appreciate a fresh garden harvest.

This is what I did to it. Flattened out the circular beds, added some shrubs that were crammed into another bit of the garden and surrounded them by various edibles that were in the veggie garden. I'm waiting for seeds from some and food from others. Who knows when I'll move. Besides, it greens the new garden bed up. Now our lawn has doubled in size.

You may be thinking "I would love to buy a house with a big, nice veggie patch. You should have left it." I tried that argument with the realtor but given our very, very big garden in the front yard with lots of edible landscaping and the quite large garden on the other side of the veggie patch and the two sizeable gardens beside the house, she said that perhaps what might be more attractive to a potential buyer was lawn, or as I like to call it green concrete. Pouring seed will commence just before the rains expected tomorrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Harvest - Salad Days - Monday

Alright. As I always seem a bit tardy to write up my Monday harvest, I think I'm going to start on Sunday so I can post bright and early in the morning.

Sperling Top onion, top setting onion, lots of mache, chicory, violets, scorzonera (the elongated shoots are getting better but still a touch hairy) and some dame's rocket (technically edible* but I haven't put it on the menu yet).

As it is, I did eat a lovely salad from the garden on Sunday. Here is a picture of the patch that it came from. The best thing about this violet leaf, mache, sweet cicely, lovage, sorrel, and onion salad was that I did not sow any of it this year. Yes, the only 2010 work that went into making this salad was washing the sandy soil off. None of these things were even sown last year. The youngest of the alliums was put in the garden, I believe, in 2008. So this salad came from sowing prior to that! Cool eh?

Speaking of cold tolerant. This time of year, I sing the praises of Brassicaceae and Alliceae a little bit louder as they are among the first and last crops I harvest. As I've written a couple recent posts on our cole companions, I thought I'd make my next post on the alliums allies with an emphasis on the perennials. Stay tuned!

*The technically edible section:

Dame's rocket - Hesperis matronalis: I haven't really eaten these yet and am not sure how these plants got there. Extreme Gardener writes on devouring this invasive.

Violet - Viola odorata: I generally enjoy the leaves but the ones I tried yesterday were a bit tough. The flowers are a decorative edible. Not Eating Out in New York goes wild for violet leaves.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stumbled over some nuts and other updates

I was googling Clarence Bay, Ontario when I stumbled onto Tree Nuts Canada. There are various interesting articles on growing acrons and other edible nuts commonly found in this area. Here is their page on saving the Butternut, with an extensive list of conservation authorities and links to the Ferguson Forest Centre, a great place for bringing back the forest.

Updated Events Page

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tomato Tuesday*

I missed Harvest Monday so I thought I would make it up to you by showing how my outdoor/indoor tomato start project was going. To be brief, this is a technique I use for frost tender seedlings. It is similar to wintersown though I originally thought of it as an alteration of coldframe techniques but enough quibbling over 'sources.'

Bouncy baby tomato plants

I make a 'wintersown' container and plant in seeds like tomatoes or pumpkins or something that would not be thrilled by frost. Then instead of just leaving them outside, I put them out only on warm days (approximately above 4C) in their mini greenhouses. The cover comes off it is above 10C. At night, I bring them in. Post one, where I make the container - Really Easy Seed Starting. Normally the seeds germinate quickly in warm weather but this one was languishing so I did a germination test on the seeds I used and they FAILED (old package of old seed from an old organization - keyword folks). I presprouted another short season tomato variety and planted when I saw the first root. That was a couple days ago now so here we have plants. Normally I don't have to presprout anything that volunteers in the garden like tomatoes or pumpkins but you gotta do what you gotta do for those juicy globes of tomato goodness.

Speaking of warm weather. Who wants to make bets on no frost for April in Ottawa?

Spring is official: Watch out for the attack of the fuzzy, mud monster.

* I didn't think Tomato Tuesday was a real thing but I googled to be sure and you get lots of hits.
** There is so much going on in the garden that I might do an update post soon. Yeah, I know there were no other footnotes mentioned but I just thought I'd throw one in anyhow. Garlic is an appreciable size, alliums spears poke out everwhere. Crocus, winter aconite, recticulated iris, scilla and more are in bloom. I even so the red shining through the buds of early tulips. Seeds of kale, mustard and other greens have sprouted. With this weather, we should be lush and multicoloured in no time. The browns and greys of early spring are behind us now. Full speed into summer!