Monday, February 28, 2011

You say rutabaga, I say turnip!

Is it weird that I have a thing for turnips? Growing up, you couldn't have paid me to eat a turnip, but in recent years, I find myself flipping excitedly through the pages of seed catalogues looking for new or heirloom turnip varieties. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't ever remember my mother serving turnips.. here in the Maritimes, if you say 'turnip', chances are that you really mean rutabaga.

It's easy to see where the confusion comes from. Both are members of the vast cabbage family and both are rounded veggies that grow beneath the earth. Yet, turnips are smaller than rutabagas and require much less time to mature. In fact, we start planting turnips in the cold frame a month or two before the last frost (late March through April) and they're ready in just 6 to 8 weeks. Rutabagas, on the other hand, take months to mature and the roots are often stored for winter meals. I rarely offer precious garden space to rutabagas - a long season crop that is cheap and widely available.

Turnips also have delicious edible foliage. When my hubby first tried them raw and straight from the garden, he declared them 'better than arugula' - high praise, indeed! Great for salads or for cooked greens.

These photos are some of my beloved Hakurei turnips that mature in just 38 days! The pure white roots are smooth, crisp and quite sweet. We start pulling them when they're an inch across (picking every 2nd one to thin the remainder) and the rest are pulled when needed until they're 2 inches across.

In my seed obsession this year, I've ordered about a half dozen new types of turnips to try.. not sure where they'll go, but they're easy to intercrop with other slower-growing brassicas like broccoli or cabbage. Plus, they're so quick growing, we can succession plant them from late winter to late summer..

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hello. My name is Niki and I have a problem..

It's true, I'm addicted to seeds.. in my foolishness, I thought that because I ordered so many things last year (partially because of the book and the need to grow certain veggie for the sake of photography), I would be able to get away with a small seed order this year. Ha! Once seed fever struck, the orders began to pile up and now my veggie seed box went from organized to out-of-control! Check out the photo - and this is after I weeded out all the old seeds and stuff that didn't do well enough to deserve a second chance. I think I need a bigger box!

I'm still waiting for one more order (from, and once that comes, I should be finished with my seed orders. I think I have enough to plant a few acres - too bad I only have 2000 sq feet!

Yesterday morning, we went to the Seaport Farmer's Market in Halifax.. it's a busy place - plenty of people bustling around - but it's so much fun to wander the aisles checking out the eclectic mix of offerings. One booth might have felted wool bags, and the next one free-range eggs. Further down are Egyptian pastries and then my favourite coffee place - Java Blend (the BEST cappuccino in the world). Anyhoo, I went to the market with a purpose (two purposes actually) - I needed to get some seeds from Owen Bridge, the owner of Annapolis Seeds (and I wanted a brioche from Julien's French Bakery for Sunday morning baked french toast - a family tradition).

Side note - the brioche french toast was amazing.. mmmm.. why didn't I take a photo!? Next time..

I had a list for Owen - I only needed 7 seed packets (and not all were for me!).. but, when I see seed racks full of such unique varieties (Suyo Long Cucumber, Chiapis Wild Tomato), I can go a bit crazy! Plus, it's almost time to seed tomatoes, so if you get a chance, you should check out his booth at the market - he'll be there every Sat for the next few months I believe. Buying transplants from a garden center in the spring is convenient, but it certainly limits the amount of varieties you can grow - especially when it comes to heirloom tomatoes. Even if you only need a handful of plants, it's far better to grow your own rather than limit yourself to the whims of a nursery that might only offer Big Beef and Scotia tomatoes (the horror!).

Back to the topic at hand - This is the time of the year when I find the garden seems to be so small. I'm tempted by the vast array of seeds out there, but I know in reality, space is limited. Like most gardeners, we have our family favourites (Lemon cucumbers, Purple Podded Pole Beans, Sungold Tomatoes) and we need to grow these each year. But then there are always new (or new-to-us) varieties that I want to try. In mid-summer when I'm watering the garden, it seems HUGE, but now, when I'm hoping to cram in dozens of new veggies, it seems postage-stamp small..

Such is the lot of a gardener I guess.. but then I wonder.. do we really need that flat expanse of lawn beside the garden (another 2000 square feet).. do the children really need a space to play soccer, tag and badminton? hmmmm..

Happy Gardening!

Friday, February 25, 2011

New tomatoes for 2011

A few weeks ago, I posted about the tomatoes that we'll be growing this summer.. well, that list has grown dramatically, thanks to a blogging friend and a frequent guest on my radio show, Craig LeHoullier, also known as the North Carolina Tomato Man. For years now, Craig has mentioned a unique tiny-fruited tomato called Mexican Midget and I'm thrilled to actually have seed this year for this unusual tomato. He has also sent me some seed from his Dwarf Tomato Project. You can find out more info on this project at:

His blog is also accessible from that site. Although I don't have details on all of these new varieties, here is what I know about some of the ones that I'll be growing this summer:

Dwarf Beryl Beauty (see top photo - courtesy of Victory Seeds) - An introduction from the Dwarf Tomato Project, this mid-season tomato grows just 4-feet tall and bears smooth, round fruits. The colour is bright green, but many offer a soft blush on the blossom end.

Mexico Midget (photo courtesy of - Ok, not part of the Dwarf Tomato Project, but I've been wanting this one for years! Each plant bears hundreds of tiny bright red tomatoes - 1/2 to 3/4-inch in diameter. The tomato flavour is HUGE and the plants can also get quite tall as they are indeterminate.

Tasmanian Chocolate - soon to be released - Craig will be announcing where gardeners can get this new dwarf tomato soon (keep an eye on his blog), but I'm thrilled to have some seed.

Rosella Purple - soon to be released - Another new dwarf tomato that will be available at seed catalog's soon - check Craig's blog.

Variegated (photo from - An old heirloom tomato that has variegated foliage and red 2-inch diameter tomatoes. The flavor is said to be very good, but I think it's the showy plants that add appeal to this unusual variety.

Craig also sent me seed for Dwarf Kelly Green and Dwarf Sweet Sue tomatoes, which are still under development and not available yet. We haven't grown many green maturing tomatoes, so this will be a fun season as we experiment with 2 to 3 different varieties of green.

When I get photos of Rosella Purple and Tasmanian Chocolate, I'll post them..

Also, it looks like it will be a pepper-filled year too (thanks to Craig).. I just hope we have a long hot summer like last year so that peppers have enough time to mature. Fingers crossed!

On another note, I'm off to the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market tomorrow.. Owen from Annapolis Seeds ( will be there and I need a few more things from him too! Here's a shot of Owen and I last summer after his spot on my radio show.

With all this seed talk, I think I need a bigger garden this year..

Happy Gardening!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seeding Season!

Mid to late February is the official start of the seeding season.. As year round gardeners, we do end up sowing seed - directly in the garden, cold frames or indoors under our grow lights pretty much continually from late February until October - but the next 6 weeks are the busiest! There are artichokes to be seeded (I'm running a bit late!), onions, celery, celeriac, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and so much more.. Plus, now that the days are longer and beginning to show signs of warming up, it's time to start seeding in the cold frames as well.

At this point, there are plenty of empty spaces in the frames from ongoing winter harvests and we can now fill those in with a wide variety of seed - arugula (regular and rustic), mache, claytonia, spinach, lettuce, mizuna, endive and so on. In early March, I'll start seeding more carrots in the frames, even as we continue to eat the ones sown last August. In mid-March, the first seed potatoes can be tucked into the frames too for a late May harvest of tender, baby nuggets! Ah, it's all so exciting!

These are photos from last year in late winter and early spring. As you can see, there was a mix of crops including salad greens, beets, purple pak choi and more. At this point, we're also still enjoying our herbs that are in the frames - thyme, parsley and chervil.

Recently, someone asked me if they could grow mint all winter long in a cold frame.. Although I think that it is likely, I can pretty much guarantee that if you planted mint in your cold frame, that is all you'll ever be able to grow there! It's so invasive, that we located (as I mentioned in a recent post) our mint patch several hundred yards from our veggie garden. When I was a teenager and bought my first mint plant (curly mint), I planted the small sprig between my delphiniums at our cottage.. it looked so small, who knew it would cause such mayhem! Within a year, that garden bed was completely overrun with the mint and it was even spilling onto the pathways (at least it smelled good when we walked upon it!). Although I tried to pull it out, it just kept growing back and even today, that garden still contains large clumps of curly mint. Live and learn!

On that note, I think I should start to get out my seed starting supplies and begin organizing them for the big seeding this week!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's coming.. (spring!)

Just a few spring-inspired photos from last year to remind you that it really is just around the corner! These images are from the amazing gardens of Duff and Donna - I wish I could claim these plantings as my own! :)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Garden helpers

It's going to be a sunny, mild day today with temperatures rising above freezing! I love a good February thaw, although with all this snow, I doubt we'll get much of a thaw.. still, I'll take what I can get at this point! The beautiful sunshine is making me think of summer and one of our favourite garden helpers.. the ladybug. We have a ladybug breeding factory in our mint patch - which is located about a hundred yards from the veggie garden (if you've grown mint before you know why!)

They just love the mint and the kids (and us grown up's) love to spend endless summer afternoons watching the antics of the ladybugs on the shaded mint leaves. All stages of their life cycle are present and we often take handfuls of the larvae and adults up to the veggie garden to control a wide variety of pests like aphids.

Last summer, our sunflower house was beset by aphids - who were being herded and guarded by ants. When we brought up the ladybugs to help control the aphids, the ants would immediately (and aggressively) eject the ladybugs from the plants. It was amazing to watch nature at work and see how these small creatures interact. Don't worry, we rescued the ladybugs and put them in a safer part of the garden! :)

Anyway, here are some photos of our ladybug factory and various stages in their lifecycle.. as well, I included a shot of them on our sweet peas - a very aphid-prone plant, but so essential in a garden..

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Tomato Surprise

Last summer my neighbour picked up a packet of Ildi tomato seed from a Thomspon & Morgan seed rack in the local grocery store. It was a bit late in the season to be seeding tomatoes (late April), but she did it anyway and gave me a dozen seedlings in mid-June.. the plants were tiny, and I certainly didn't think they would amount to much. I figured a frost would wipe out the plants long before they had a chance to produce their fruits..

And speaking of their fruits, here's a bit of background - Ildi is an open-pollinated tomato that grows about 5 to 6 feet tall. Each plant produces 3 to 4 trusses, with each truss bearing 50 to 75 fruits each. The packet also said that the small tomatoes are grape-shaped and golden yellow in colour. (thanks to Thompson and Morgan for the photograph)

So, I planted 6 plants in the main garden and 6 plants in our temporary terraced garden last summer. Yet, they were so small - in comparison, my other tomatoes were already 1 1/2 feet tall and the Ildi seedlings were just 2 inches tall. I underplanted them with a mix of romaine and red salad bowl lettuce and completely forgot about them!

Lucky for me, the season ended up being long and hot and just when the early planted tomatoes begin to wind down production, pretty Ildi picked up the slack. In terms of taste, they're not as incredibly sweet as Sungold (our #1 garden tomato), but they are still delicious, prolific and addictive! We harvested them through frosts and into November (I covered them with a row cover or a sheet of plastic at night). They really do produce sizable trusses that simply dripped in bright yellow tomatoes. We ate handfuls every day, but I have since learned that you can cut the trusses before the first fall frost, hang them in a cool garage or basement and harvest for weeks.

So the verdict - a definite 2 thumbs up! I would absolutely plant this prolific little tomato again and I think I would even plant another late crop of Ildi just in case this summer is also long and hot - fingers crossed!!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Winter carrots

We love our winter carrots, but I have to admit that because we've gotten so much snow in the past 10 days, I've been a bit lazy shoveling off the cold frames. Of course, the temperatures have also been frigid and I'm a big believer in the insulating properties of snow on top of a frame when temperature plunge.

But, since I just got a request for cold frame carrots from the kids, I went up and dug out the frames to pull a dozen sweet Napoli carrots.. As you can see, we do have quite a bit of snow, so it took me a few minutes to locate the exact spot of the frames! There were also quite a few deer tracks meandering around the buried garden beds.. in fact, yesterday morning, as we were getting ready for the school bus, two deer wandered through the backyard and stopped for moment to observe the crazy humans staring at them from the window. Darn deer!

Anyway, if you look closely at the photos, you'll see the carrot tops still look pretty good. I often fill the frame with shredded leaves in early winter for extra insulation, but because it was so nice this year, I never bothered. There is a crust of frozen soil at the very surface, but the shovel sunk down into the earth very easily and out came the carrots! They're a good size - most are about 6 inches long, making them the perfect size for snacking.

Check out the following photos sent in by Pete from New Brunswick who is winning the 'snow-off', as they are very close to breaking their all-time snowfall record.. keep that snow Pete! We have more than enough here!

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love is in the air (along with more snow)

Ok.. it's a bit cheesy, but years ago, I wrote an article for a local newspaper on 'love-themed' seeds (veggie and annual flowers) that you could give your sweetie on that lovely card-company created holiday.. I thought I'd share a few of them (updated!) with you - especially now that the seed racks are popping up in many of the grocery and home improvement stores! Enjoy!
  • 'Valentine' Sunflower - Completely obvious as a love-themed gift, this really is an outstanding sunflower. It grows about 4 to 5 feet tall and bears 6-inch wide pale yellow blooms with a deep chocolate center. I like to plant them at the back of the veggie patch to provide a colourful backdrop to our diverse mix of veggies. (photos from
'Love in a Mist' - This is a very unique annual that has delicate, lacy foliage and pretty star-shaped flowers in shades of soft blue, purple, pink and white. We just sprinkle the seed in the veggie patch in mid-May and by late June, the plants are beginning to bloom. The dramatic seed pods are also to be admired - they're large, rounded, with spidery tops and red and green stripes running down the sides.

'Falling in Love' Shirley poppies - New for 2011 from Renee's Garden, this mix of annual Shirley poppies boasts single and double papery flowers in crimson, rose-red, peach and white with a red edge. The flowers grow 2 to 3 feet tall and can be direct seeded in very early spring.

'Cupid' grape tomato - Like most indeterminate tomatoes, Cupid is a prolific yielder, offering a long-lasting harvest of 1 inch long red grape-shaped fruits. The tomatoes are sweet, crack-resistant and keep well after harvest. The plants, which need staking, are also very disease resistant.

'Cupid' sweet pea - Since we're on the topic of Cupid, here another offering - the Cupid sweet pea. I LOVE sweet peas and the compact vines of Cupid make this a good choice for windowboxes and containers. The scented blooms are rose-pink and edged in white - very pretty!

'Sweet Chocolate' pepper - Who needs traditional chocolate when you can have a chocolate pepper! (Ok, I still want regular chocolate too) I grew these last year and thanks to our exceptionally warm year, we harvested lovely milk chocolate peppers in mid-September. They were very sweet and definitely worth growing - especially in the North, as they mature in about 75 days.

'Kiss me over the Garden Gate' - A tall and quick growing annual flower, this aptly named plant grows more than tall enough to surpass a garden gate - up to 6-feet tall! The pink flowers hang their tassel-like heads back towards the earth, as if spurned.. too poetic? :) Anyway, flowery prose aside, the does make a pretty addition to a kitchen or cutting garden.

Ok, that's all I can think of - does anyone have any other suggestion?? I'd love to hear them!

On another note, here are some seeds to NOT give to your loved one this Valentine's day - Love Lies Bleeding, 'Painted Lady' Sweet pea (or the runner bean of the same name - nothing with painted lady in the name!), 'Banana Legs' Tomato, 'Yellow Crookneck' summer squash, and so on.. feel free to comment with any other ideas of what NOT to give your sweetheart! :)

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Plodding away on the book..

It's another snow day (4 in two weeks!) and in between shoveling and making snowmen (armies of snowmen to be precise), I'm trying to finish up the final edit of the book.. these photos are from a few weeks ago.. I will trudge up to the frames today, but the tunnels are almost completely buried at this point!

Writing a book is all new to me and it's such an interesting process. You nail down a proposal, it goes to the publisher where it goes through a number of channels for approval. You tighten up your proposal to more finely focus your ideas. It is approved (with any luck!). You start writing. Photo shoot. And write. Photo shoot. And write. Photo shoot. Finally, a year later you hand in your manuscript. You've got about a month before you start getting back edits from your editor. In this brief amount of time, your work has been transformed into the skeleton of a book. At this point, you can see shadows of the finished product - sections rearranged to make more more sense, better flow to the text, titles to each section, etc. But, you're not done! Final photo shoot. The manuscript goes further down the line to the copy editor. Back to your editor. Back to you. This is where I am now.. re-reading the entire manuscript, which has evolved from the original product into the 'almost' final product in terms of writing. I'm checking maturity dates and adding a few more varieties to my lists of 'Niki's Picks'. As I'm doing this, the magical art director and her team have started on the layout and work to add photos, illustrations and bring my garden designs to life. Amazing.. soon, I should have some pages to view and then in another month or two (I hope) the cover will be approved!! Finally, in December the book will emerge - a process that took 2 1/2 times as long as actually having a baby! :)

Yet, it's been so much fun. I've met amazing gardeners, traveling all around this wonderful province. I've teamed up with my lifelong favourite publisher, which publishes some of my favourite authors - Barbara Pleasant, Barbara Ellis, etc. (Seeing as my name isn't Barbara, I'm surprised they approved my manuscript!)

Now, if only we could do something about all this snow.. ??

Happy Gardening!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Catalogue has arrived!

Seed season is in full swing and I just received this from Owen Bridge, the 19 year old seedsman behind Annapolis Seeds.. check it out at their website - - or on facebook if you're on there..

I'm partial to the Cole tomato, Lazy Housewife bean (see my bean post from yesterday) and way too many others to mention in this quick post! Owen has been a guest on my radio show several times and he'll join me again this spring when we start up in May (once the date is nailed down, I'll post it)..

Bren (of one of my favourite blogs - what are you getting from Annapolis Seed this year? :)

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Beans with Snap!

It was my childhood bean patch that really got me hooked on gardening. I guess you could say it was a veggie garden, but since 90% of the space was occupied by Top Notch Golden Wax beans, I like to think of it as a bean patch! We did have a row of beets and carrots thrown in for good measure, but it was the beans we all anticipated. Lightly steamed and topped with butter and salt, they were divine! (my mouth is watering just thinking about it!)
Today, I still plant Top Notch Golden Wax, but they're getting harder to find. Halifax Seed is my source and the bush plants produce a generous crop of 5 to 6 inch long flat yellow beans. Back in the garden of my youth, we only seeded one crop. Now, I start planting beans in mid-May and continue seeding until mid-July for months of garden fresh beans. We often pick into late October!

I also grow mostly pole beans now, as they offer a larger harvest from the same amount of space - typically 2 to 3 times as many beans! Fortex, Emerite, Purple Podded Pole and French Gold are my go-to pole beans and we grow them up bamboo teepees, A-frame trellises and the garden fence.

Fortex and Emerite (which I've written about on this blog before) are filet types that can be harvested when they're just 5 inches long and super thin, or 10 inches long and still slender. The interior seeds never get 'beany' and overmature, making them an incredibly high quality snap bean.

Purple Podded Pole is just a fun bean - jewel toned, but turns green when cooked. The kids call them magic beans and the long, flat pods are also extremely meaty.

Owen Bridge of Annapolis Seeds ( tells me that I need to grow 'Lazy Housewife', which is his favourite green pole bean. He tells me that the flavour is out-of-this-world! I'll have to add it to my list for this summer.

I'd also like to try the pole bean 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' and 'Tongue of Fire', a bush bean with red streaked pods that hails from Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of Argentina. We've spent much time in Argentina and I'd love to try this heirloom that was discovered in that region.

I guess my next question is what beans do you like to grow? Do you prefer bush or pole types? Heirloom or hybrid?

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gardening Buddies and Tomatoes for 2011

I am a lucky girl.. One of the best things an avid (ok, obsessive) gardener can have is a friend to share in the seed ordering and starting, as well as the eventual swapping of seedlings. And I don't just have a seed buddy, I have a group! This pack of neighbours and friends allows us all to order a wider variety of seeds and share in the costs of both seeds and shipping. For example, I usually grow about 15 to 20 types of tomatoes per year (crazy, I know).. I'll buy seed for 7 or 8 different types, but my seed buddies will also buy different packets and then we'll swap seeds (or the transplants just before planting time). Sharing gives us the opportunity to grow a lot of variety without breaking the bank!

It can be hard to find a good seed buddy, but if you don't have one, I'd recommend checking out your local garden club, or scouting your neighbourhood for other veggie gardens.. Gardeners love to talk and share stories of their successes (and failures), so you have an automatic icebreaker.

I'm really looking forward to this tomato season - even though we're still enjoying our heirloom tomatoes from last summer! I froze about a dozen large freezer bags of just-picked tomatoes and I use them for sauce, salsa and on our homemade pizzas.. they are a bit more watery than unfrozen tomatoes, but they still taste like summer. My list of tomatoes for 2011 includes the following, but I'd love some more ideas - please let me know your own favourites!
  • Sungold - our favourite hybrid!
  • Black Cherry
  • Mexico Midget
  • I need to find a good red cherry - we grew 'Ladybug' last summer and they split VERY easily and were only so-so.. any recommendations?
  • Costoluto Genovese
  • Big Rainbow
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Persimmon
  • Black Krim - it has been a bit disappointing in recent summers.. tends to rot on the vines.
  • Brandywine
  • Cole - a new one for us from Annapolis Seeds
  • Omar's Lebanese
Well, I'm off to help 55 grade 3 students plant up individual terrariums - wish me luck!

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Slight changes..

As you can probably see, I've made a few slight changes to the layout of the blog - very spur of the moment.. thoughts? Do you like this new look or is the 2-feet of snow piling up outside my window making me a bit crazy?

My lovely hand!

As promised (and the perfect distraction from a super snowy day - 40 to 50 cm of snow coming!).. a series of photos featuring some of our favourite veggies and my hand! I take a LOT of photos over the course of the year and many of them are awkwardly taken as I hold whatever I'm photographing in one hand and shoot the photo with the other! Usually my hands are pretty dirty too!

I'm embarrassed to say that I'll probably need to do a 'part 2' to this post sometime, as I still have plenty of 'hand photos' left!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Radio Spot this Morning!

Catch me this morning on Maritime Morning at 10:30 am Atlantic time on News 95.7 FM when host, Jordi Morgan and I chat about growing herbs indoors and starting seeds! (I also hope to mention some of our great Maritime seed companies!)

Listen live on the radio or online at You can also call in with your questions..