Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bumped by Stephen Harper!

UPDATE (Hope this works!) - A photo from the twitter feed of Maritime Morning when Prime Minister Stephen Harper dropped by the radio station for a 6 min interview:

What a day! Did the two radio spots this morning, but the 11 am one got bumped to 11:30, thanks to a last-minute visit to the studios by none other than, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (and his wife and about 50 staffers and security!). They're in Halifax for a 1 day whirlwind media tour and fit in a 10 min spot at News 95.7 FM.

Sorry if anyone tuned in at 11 am to hear me.. it happened too late for me to post about it. Yet, it was rather interesting to meet the PM.. I didn't get a photo - should have pulled out my blackberry, but the big dudes in suits were a bit intimidating! Just kidding (they may be listening!)

Thought I'd post this photo instead - a handful of the just-picked greens from our salad last night. Much prettier than Stephen Harper - although he certainly has well coiffed hair! :)

Happy Gardening

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring in the Garden

Overwintered tatsoi going to seed

Overwintered endive growing like crazy!

It's a gorgeous day - sunny, mild and a great day to poke about in the garden.. Sure, mid-day is the worst time to take photos (bright sun directly overhead), but that never stopped me before! So, after planting up more flats of seeds, I took my camera for a stroll in the garden. Here are the photos!!

Also, join me tomorrow morning (Thurs) at 9:30 Atlantic time on News 91.9 FM (listen live at when Dan Alhstrand and I talk about gardening on a budget!!

Then, from 11 to 11:30 am, I'll be joining Jordi Morgan, the host of Maritime Morning on News 95.7 FM (listen live at to offer tips on spring gardening. We'll be taking your gardening questions during each segment, so please call in!!

Plus, I'll be at the Ideal Home Show this weekend in Halifax! Seminars at noon and 3 pm on each Saturday and Sunday - check out today's Chronicle Herald for all the details!!

Mustard in a mini hoop tunnel from last autumn.

The view inside the spring green mini hoop tunnel - yum!   

A rare expected treat - overwintered scallions! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Seedling update!

It's been a long two weeks, all garden/seeding work delayed by kids with colds, coughs and ear infections..   yet, today, I'm hoping to get more seeds started under the lights - basil, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, cabbage, zinnias and more.. I'm a few weeks behind schedule!

The tomatoes and peppers that were seeded a few weeks ago are growing well - it seemed to take forever for some of the peppers to sprout, but I really wasn't keeping that close an eye on them and when I peeked a few days ago, I realized that some of the seedlings were purple in colour and therefore blended in with the potting soil!! Thanks to Craig at I have a bunch of new-to-me tomatoes and peppers that I'm growing this year, so I wasn't sure what to expect.. (for more info on what I'm growing, check out my posts from earlier this month and Feb)

All the tomatoes have now sprouted, except for the Mexico Midget, which I'm told are a bit pokey to germinate. So I'll continue to be patient. I also planted several packs of ruffled pansies.. sigh!! I grew them about ten years ago and LOVED them so much. I bought the Can Can F1 Pansy seed from McFayden (see photo) and they sprouted within 4 days! Can't wait to put these in the garden. The butter yellow pansies from last year are in bud in the veggie garden right now - with no protection! Their hardiness amazes me. Not sure if these ruffled ones will be so persistent, but fingers crossed!

It's also time to be seeding and transplanting under the mini hoop tunnels - seedlings of the cool season cole crops - broccoli, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi and more can be transplanted now under their protection.. as well as seed  of all of the cold and cool season salad greens - mustard, arugula, lettuce, spinach and more..

Mind you, we did wake to a dusting of snow, but the rest of the week looks sunny and mild with temps around 7 and 8 C.. Let's hope the coughs go away ASAP and we can all get back to playing outside..

Happy Gardening!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring - One Step Forward.. Two Steps Back..

Last weekend was glorious - mild, sunny and perfect for playing in the garden. This weekend? Not so much! It's not too bad out there, but the constant drift of flurries invokes autumn rather than spring.

Yesterday we had a rather unexpected hailstorm in the late afternoon. There's nothing like a barrage of hail to draw kids outside in a flash! They were pretty sizable chunks too! Take a peek.. It lasted about 15 minutes and left a carpet of white stuff on the lawn and garden. The long range forecast calls for milder weather this coming week.. fingers crossed!! I want to get the early pea crop in, as well as more greens, root crops and cool season transplants under the mini hoop tunnels..  Plus I really need to get more flats seeded under the lights - basil, parsley, cole crops and more..

Hope you enjoy your weekend! Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pumpkin Moon Herbals Seed List

Last spring we went up to the Wolfville Farmer's Market, which is about an hour from my house. It was a fantastic farmer's market - seeds, plants, food, music and local goods - so much fun! I went up there for two reasons: 1 - to check out the stall of Annapolis Seeds and 2 - to check out the stall of Pumpkin Moon Herbals. Michelle Summer Fike is the owner of this unique company, which grows a wide variety of plants in their organic gardens and produces amazing teas, salves, lotions, soaps, remedies and more from the harvest.. plus, she offers seeds!! I love the mix of heirloom veggies, herbs and flowers and her 2011 listing has just come out. To check it out, go to her website (see below) and click on 'Seeds, Kitchen and Garden'.. you won't be sorry!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Random thoughts..

Kale that was overwintered.
I must say that yesterday was a lovely first full day of spring! The sun was shining, the birds chirping and I had a chance to play in the dirt.. Our garden is tucked in the backyard - not because I think it should be hidden from sight, but because it was our warmest and sunniest spot. The land slopes slightly to the south, allowing both excess water and cold air to drain away from the garden. Plus, the southern exposure offers maximum sunlight. The garden sits on a former forest.. when we cleared the dead trees and grubbed the scrub (say that 5 times fast!!) away, we dug down to loosen the earth and remove any roots that could become perennial problems. The soil was poor though and rocky, so we brought in some good organic earth. The beds were built up and we surrounded the beds with logs from the dead trees we cleared - waste not, want not!

Now, I top the beds with well aged manure every spring (as well as in between successive crops), as well as homemade compost and a mix of organic amendments and some lime. I actually limed yesterday. I had been digging shredded leaves that we gathered last autumn into the beds and figured that I was a great time to lime. Our soils tend to be acidic and a yearly liming is important. If the pH drops too much (or goes to high, on the other hand), then nutrients become unavailable to plants. I haven't done a soil test in a couple of years, but plan on having one done this fall. It's good to check up on your soil every few years. It really is a window into what's happening in your soil in terms of major nutrients, organic matter levels and pH.
Mache in the garden yesterday
I know that no-dig gardens are 'all the rage', but I have to admit that I like to dig. When people see our 2000 sq feet, they always say how much work it must be, but it's really not work - on two levels. One, it only takes a few hours in the spring to ready the beds and two, if you love doing something, it's not work. Turning the soil, digging in leaves, raking it smooth is a pure basic pleasure. Like most gardeners, I even like the smell of the earth.  (take a deeeeep breath)

Growing up, we didn't even break ground on our garden until late May and it was done by mid August.. Sowing seeds in the garden in mid-March was unthinkable. Yet, sow I did. I sprinkled some of my favourite hardy veggies in the garden yesterday and popped a quick mini hoop tunnel over the bed. I planted tatsoi, arugula, Black Seeded Simpson lettuce and some mixed Asian greens. Our winter crops are almost done, so these will fill that gap nicely.

An unexpected surprise beneath a mini hoop tunnel!
Being able to harvest 12 months a year is another basic pleasure and one that is so much more obtainable than most gardeners realize.. let's change all that!!

Tunnel covers ready to be cleaned after winter use.
PS - saw the cover of the book yesterday for the first time!! So exciting.. I can't wait to share it with you.. soon!

Happy Spring!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring!

It's official.. spring has arrived! It's even relatively mild here today and a good day to get some garden clean up or cold frame seeding done.. However you choose to enjoy this first day of spring, I hope you have a great day!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Weekend Gardener is Back!!

Starting on May 1st from 11 am to 1 pm Atlantic time, The Weekend Gardener will be back for a 5th season!! You can join me every Sunday on News 95.7 FM, News 91.9 FM or News 88.9 FM or live online at

I can't believe that it's been 5 years - time flies.. the show has changed so much too. We started off with a 1 hour early Saturday morning show, but within a year the show was lengthened to 2 hours and moved to Sunday. There have been a lot of changes to the show itself, but also trends have altered dramatically since we began 5 years ago. Back then, veggie gardening was just starting to get back in vogue. Now, it's the #1 gardening topic!

I'm still working on the guest list for 2011, but you can be sure that some of our regular favourites - the North Carolina Tomato Man Craig LeHoullier, tree and shrub expert Cathy Oulton (of Bloom Greenhouses), Owen Bridge (of Annapolis Seeds), Carla Isnor (good friend and garden know-it-all) and many many more will be back. Plus, I've been busy booking the authors of all the hot new gardening books. These include Andrea Bellamy, the author of Sugar Snaps and Strawberries, Amy Stewart to talk about Wicked Bugs, Richard Bitner who wrote Designing with Conifers and The Week by Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook by the father-daughter team of Ron and Jennifer Kujawski.

We will also talk to both local experts and those from across North America on a wide variety of garden issues, news and topics. Plus, as mentioned before in the blog, I want to hear from you with your ideas and opinions.

Spring is just 2 days away and the snow is melting fast. The season is about to begin.. are you ready!?

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More ways to cut your grocery bill!

Ok.. the response to my post last week on super-producing garden crops that can cut your grocery bill has been immense.. I've gotten a lot of great e-mails and there were also some fantastic comments left on that post - great suggestions everyone, thanks!! So, I thought that perhaps, I should touch on a few easy-to-grow veggies that are inexpensive to cultivate, but pricey to buy at the supermarket! A similar topic and one that doesn't just talk about super-producers, but focuses on the expensive or gourmet crops.

The previous post covered salad greens (my top pick for saving $$$), carrots and pole beans. I won't repeat these, but do want to mention that salad greens really are the best way to save money in a backyard veggie garden - assuming that you like to eat a lot of salads! Gourmet greens like arugula and mache are super expensive at the grocery store, but a single seed pack will usually cover a good sized garden bed and provide months of salads. Just remember to keep succession planting for the longest and best quality harvest.

Here are a few other gourmet veggies that come to mind. Please feel free to comment with your own ideas!!

The amazing alliums (onions, scallions, shallots and leeks) - These crops are very accommodating in the garden. They don't take up much space and are very easy to grow. We're still eating our onions and shallots from the our harvest last September and the garden still has a few leeks hanging on in the frames and tunnels. We pulled the last of the scallions in late February - a mid-winter treat! Gourmet veggies like shallots and leeks are extremely expensive in the supermarket, but a no-brainer to grow.

Filet beans - As my kids would say, OMG! I saw a tiny packet of green filet beans (aka 'French filet beans') in the grocery store for $10! Yikes! Plus, it was last August.. prime picking season for these tender beans. Why on earth would anyone pay that kind of money for a handful of gourmet beans.. As I mentioned in my related post, pole beans are super-producers, but filet beans - pole or bush - are easily grown and offer a large harvest for minimal cost. The key to a bumper crop is to keep picking - every day for these super slender beans. As with snap beans, I like pole varieties to save space and increase my yield, so choose filet varieties like 'French Gold', 'Emerite' or 'Fortex'. $10!! I just can't get over that price! (In the photo, you can see an ultra-slender 'Maxibel' filet bush bean next to a slightly-overgrown 'Fortex' pole filet bean next to a regular yellow bean)

Celery and celeriac - Celery is public enemy #1 if grown 'conventionally' - a crop that is sky high in pesticide residues. Scary! (On a related note - why do we call these 'conventionally' grown crops.. wouldn't organic growing be more traditional and conventional??) Anyhoo, if we need to buy celery in the grocery store, we only buy organic celery and pay $3.99 for a small celery heart. I like to use the flavour of celery in soups, stews, sauces and a million other dishes, so, my goal is year round celery.. that's where celeriac comes in. We have garden celery from late June (baby stalks) until mid-December (mulched in the garden).. then, we begin to harvest our well-mulched celeriac roots for winter use.. they're very interchangeable in most cooked dishes and you don't need to pay big money for organic celery. Just remember that celery and celeriac LOVE moisture during the growing season.. plus heaping amounts of organic matter..

Heirloom Tomatoes - In my region, heirloom tomatoes have been very difficult to find at the supermarket - even the farmer's market! If you did luck upon some, they would be sky-high in terms of cost!! Yet, they are so easy to grow. We grow a wide variety in every colour and then we freeze them for winter in the deep freeze. They're great on a mid-winter pizza or baked into a rich sauce (with some frozen basil).. so good!

Asparagus - Spring is just 4 days away and I've got asparagus on the brain. To grow asparagus, you need to be a patient gardener.. easier said than done! I would recommend planting 1 year old crowns (locally grown if you can find them!!) and then waiting 2 more years before you harvest anything. After that, you can enjoy a gourmet crop of tender asparagus for up to 6 weeks each spring.. so good!

Well, that's all for now.. I'd love to hear your thoughts..

Happy Gardening!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Seeding - a step forward and two steps back..

It was a glorious day yesterday - over 10 C on my back deck and sunny.. I sat out there seeding flats of tomatoes and peppers - as usual, I will have more to plant than available space in the garden. To cut back on the amount of transplants that I'll end up with, I seeded just 3 of most of the varieties that I have. I did, however, plant a dozen of Sungold and a dozen of Costoluto - we need at least 6 plants of each of these and I like to have a few on hand to share as well.. Last summer, we had 72 tomato plants.. this year, I hope to have around 50, but since many of the varieties are dwarf tomatoes (thanks Craig -, I may try to see if I can squeeze in a few more!

I also picked a few dozen carrots from the carrot frame - I really need to empty out that cold frame for late winter replanting!! It's amazing how well the herbs tucked in the corners of the cold frames do over the winter. The thyme, parsley and chervil are all still growing strong. I just picked a few sprigs of thyme for a gourmet mac and cheese tonight! Yum!

It was so nice outside, that I toyed with the idea of leaving the frames open for the night, but decided against it because of the risk of the deer finishing off the last of our winter crops. Glad I didn't do that, as we woke up to a few cm of snow this morning! The temp had also nosedived and it's now -11 C with the windchill.. so much for spring!?!

Well, at least in 6 days it will be officially spring!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Upcoming Garden Workshop in NS!! (I just heard about it and it sounds like fun!)

Gardening from Scratch
We have a new course of garden workshops taking place this spring in Bear River.
  • Learn how to grow vegetables from seed the organic way.
  • Learn what soil is, how to nurture your garden and the ideas behind companion planting.
  • Learn the full life cycle of plants and what to do with all that produce.
  • Sow heritage vegetable seeds then take them home and grow them on to mature plants.

Get together with like-minded beginners this spring and get your veggie ventures off the ground.
To get the most from this course early registration is recommended. CHoose from either Thursdays (a.m.) or Saturdays (p.m), at the Oakdene Community Centre. Hope to see you there.
Please take a look at the attached poster for more information or call me on 467-0481 for further details. A course outline is available on request.

Roll on spring !!
All the best,

Rising Food Prices - What to grow to save money..??

Two days ago, newspaper headlines blared 'Food Costs Rising by 7%' and 'The Cost of Food is Rising Worldwide!' Scary, eh? Food is already pretty darn expensive - especially healthy food like fruits and veggies - and organic is even more pricey! So, what can one do to cut costs on the weekly grocery bill? Plant a garden, of course! Yet, which crops offer the biggest payoff in terms of largest yields in the least amount of space. Or perhaps, they're just so quick growing that you can pump out harvest after harvest..? 

Here are my ideas, but please feel free to add your own thoughts - I'd love to hear them!

Salad Greens:

We eat a LOT of salad.. daily, in fact. But, a small plastic package costs about $4 from the grocery store and only really makes enough salad for 2 to 3 servings. If we buy 5 of those packages a week, that's $20 a week on salad alone! Yet, most salad greens are very quick growing and offer a large harvest.. plus, seeds are so inexpensive and you can grow a HUGE amount of salad from a single seed packet. Your best bet is to practice succession planting with your salad greens - plant a little more seed every 2 weeks or so for a continual harvest. Plus, if you use simple season extenders, you can eat salad (in zones 4 and above) 12 months of the year! 

Another bonus is that many greens can take a bit of shading so you can sow early and mid summer crops under A-frame trellises and pole bean teepees to get the most out of your garden space. 

My top salad picks which offer the best bang for your buck are: Leaf lettuce, mesclun mix, arugula, tatsoi and spinach. We also love our Asian mixes that contain mustards, arugula and mizuna, which are very quick growing and produce for a long time in the garden. 

Pole Beans:

I do love snap beans - almost obsessively - and when it comes to super-producers, it's hard to top pole beans. They offer 2 to 3 times the harvest of bush beans (in the same amount of space) and produce over a long period of time - usually up to 8 weeks (versus 3 weeks for bush types)! Plus, they are grown vertically up trellises, teepees or on fences and therefore don't use up too much valuable garden space. 

For winter meals, you can also blanch and freeze or can your bean harvest. 

My top picks are Emerite, Fortex, French Gold and Purple Podded Pole. I also hear great things about Lazy Housewife, so I may have to give that heirloom bean a try too! Not this year though, I have NO more space!


In a single square foot of garden space, you can grow 16 carrots. That's pretty impressive and in our 3 x 5 foot cold frames, we can grow about 240 carrots, which feed us all winter long. Plus, most carrots are ready in just 60 to 75 days.

We love Napoli, Purple Haze and Atomic Red. The photo is Atomic Red, which turns even more red when lightly cooked. 

What other veggies are good choices for a money saving grocery garden?

Happy Gardening!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I can see dirt!!

Old man winter certainly is stubborn and I have a feeling (based on the -14 C temp right now) that he's not going to give into spring without a fight! Brrrrr.. yesterday morning was also cold, but it warmed up considerably by early afternoon and I actually went out to play in the garden!!

As you can see from this photo, there is still a lot of snow, but the raised beds are finally shedding their blanket of the white stuff. I even opened the carrot cold frame in the background to pick a few handfuls for supper. We lightly steamed them along with store-bought carrots (such an unnatural bright orange looking colour) to have a taste test.. homegrown won by a mile!! (phew! You never know when dealing with kids)

This was a fun little pair of carrots, tucked away all winter in their embrace! The photos aren't great - it was so sunny, but I wanted to snap a few pictures while I was up there.. Anyone who has gardened with the square foot method knows just how many carrots you can grow in a small space and I'm happy to say that even though we've been harvesting them like crazy, there are still about 80 to 100 baby carrots left to pick in the frames.

Since the soil free of snow was actually soft, I grabbed my trusty shovel and had fun turning the soil over a bit.. I also dug the last two celeriac roots - huge knobby balls! I've posted about celeriac in the past and it's becoming a family favourite. I love its willingness to sit in the garden all winter (under straw/leaves and a row cover) until I'm ready to pull one for a soup, stew or other dish. It's extremely slow growing though so if you plan on starting your own seed, it's time to sow them indoors.

Hopefully the temperature will rise above zero again today and more snow will melt.. with rain in the forecast for the next several days, I'm hoping we'll be snow-free by Sunday.. here are a few more photos from yesterday!

Happy Gardening..

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yummy Quinoa!

Last summer, when Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds ( and Owen Bridge of Annapolis Seeds ( joined me on the radio show, we had a fun chat about seed saving, as well as some interesting plants to grow. Both of them have had success with growing quinoa - in fact, Salt Spring Seeds offers seed for these South American cereal-like crop. I was hoping to grow a patch this summer, but I think space will be too limited at this point.. Yet, we still love to eat quinoa - it's incredibly healthy and has a lovely nutty flavour.

Although we like it plain as a sidedish, I've feel like there has to be more ways to use this superfood. Therefore, I've been scouring cookbooks and recipe websites for some good quinoa recipes. Last weekend, I found this recipe on one of my favourite sites and it was so good that I had to share it with you!! Even my 8 year old niece had two helpings with her roasted chicken!! A miracle! (Sorry, I forgot to take a photo - next time.. we were just too hungry)

Enjoy.. and Happy Gardening!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Local Garden Workshops!!

I dropped into Halifax Seed last Friday to stock up on cell packs and trays for seeding (mine were so old they disintegrated in my hands!) and noticed that they are offering a huge variety of workshops over the next few months. Just in case anyone is interested, here they are! I'm not involved in any of them, but their staff is very knowledgeable and always friendly. (The photo has nothing to do with the seminars, but I love poppies and I don't think I've ever posted this photo!)

Halifax Seed Workshops:


Clip it in the Bud: Basic pruning
Wed, March 9
Cost: $10.00 / person
Just in time for pruning season. Learn how to properly trim back the trees and shrubs in your garden. This is the perfect time of year to get out in the garden with the pruners.

Alternative Lawn Care: exploring today's
options for a healthy, beautiful lawn
Wed, March 16
Cost: $10.00/person
With the impending pesticide ban, Halifax Seed is offering a course about new approaches to lawn care.  Learn about the products available on the market as well as techniques to maintain a healthy, vigorous lawn.  Seeding, fertilizer selection and cutting techniques will also be discussed

Seed Starting 101
Wed, March 23
6:30pm - 8:30pm
Cost: $10.00 / person
Starting seeds indoors can be tricky. Learn all of our favourite supplies and
techniques with hands on demonstrations. Planning, soil mixtures, preparing seed will all be discussed.


Fruit Production
Wed, April 6
Cost: $10.00 / person
Learn the basic production practices for growing delicious berries and tree fruit in your own backyard.  Topics will include site selection, planting, fertility, pruning and harvesting.

Vegetable Production
Wed, April 20
Cost: 10.00 / person

Learn the basic production practices for growing several types of vegetables in your yard.  Topics will include site selection, planting, fertility, and harvesting.


Urban Gardening
Wed, May 4
Cost: $10.00/ person
Small space gardening and urban gardening are all the rage in 2011.  We will show you some of the techniques for growing your own fresh, wholesome food in your own backyard.

Container Gardening
Wed, May 18th
Cost: $10.00 / person plus the cost of plant material of your choosing
Follow all the latest trends for 2011 by making big, beautiful and attractive container
gardens. Our expert gardeners will show the best plant pairings, containers and
techniques on getting the best impact out of your containers.  Bring your own container or buy one here.


Composting 101
Wed, June 1
Cost: $10.00 / person
We will teach you the basic components of starting a successful composting routine.


Planning your Fall Vegetable garden
Wed, August 31
Cost: $10.00 / person
Learn about the best cold season crops that can be planted to give you fresh vegetables well into the fall and early winter.


Planting & forcing fall bulbs
Wed, September 14
Cost: $10.00 / person
Learn the best planting methods and plant pairings for your fall garden design.  Techniques for forcing bulbs indoors will also be discussed.

Alternative Fall Lawn Care
Wed, Sept 28
6:30 pm - 8:30pm
Cost: $10.00 / person
Learn about the products available on the market as well as techniques to maintain a healthy, vigorous lawn.  Seeding, fertilizer selection and cutting techniques will also be discussed


Holiday Outdoor Planters
Wed, November 23
6:30pm - 8:30pm
Cost: $10.00 Plus the cost of supplies
Learn how to create a festive holiday outdoor planter.  Bring your own container or purchase one here.

Italian Squash and Lebanese Cucumbers

The snow is melting (slowly, but surely), the crocuses are pushing their way through the earth.. spring is finally in the air! Today, before the rains come, I want to fling open the cold frame covers, harvest anything left for supper tonight (I'll leave the herbs though so I can keep grazing from them) and dig in a few inches of dark compost. Then, I can get serious about seeding. I'm still waiting for one more order, which should be here today/tomorrow, but my seed box is overflowing onto the dining room table and I need to get planting.

This photo shows the mache still left in one of the garden beds.. Each summer, I let a few mache plants go to seed. Then, once the seed is ready to spread, I uproot the plant and shake it over all the garden beds. Each plant produces thousands of seeds!! Most of the beds are then randomly scattered with seed and we can harvest all winter if we can reach the plants through the snow - a row cover helps to lift off the snow if it's not too deep. I tossed a coin on the bed too so you can see the size of the plants. We just slice them off at soil level, leaving the rosettes whole. So yummy when tossed with lemon juice, olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

I also managed to get my hands on (squeal!) some genuine straight-from-the-mountain Lebanese metki (also known as painted serpent cucumbers) and melokhiya (an Egyptian green used to make a chicken stew type dish that is then poured over rice and topped with onions and vinegar - my mother in law made it yesterday for lunch). So exciting!! I've been looking for the metki for years. I've tried packets of seed from a handful of suppliers, but they're never the right variety, so I am thrilled to finally have the exact type I've been searching for.

I also have a few new squashes to try this summer (thanks to for the photo use). Trombetta di Albenga is an heirloom Italian summer squash with long, curved fruits with a rounded blossom end. They can grow quite lengthy, but are best picked when about a foot long. The firm flesh doesn't get soggy like other zucchini and it has an unusual nutty flavour that hints of artichoke.. my plan it to grow them up one of our A-frame trellises. We have 2 big ones now (8-feet long), but I think I'll need a third this year.

The other squash I'm excited about is Costata Romanesca (say it out loud - doesn't it sound soooo Italian!? FYI - It's available locally at, which is considered one of the best tasting zuchinni - period. The striped fruits are deep and light green and produced in abundance on vigorous plants. Flavour is also nutty and the large blossoms are exceptional when stuffed and sauteed.. mmm.. can't wait!

I hope spring if finding you as well..

Happy Gardening!

Friday, March 4, 2011

And so it begins..

Sadly, the title of this post isn't referring to spring (although the weekend does look mild!!), but rather the rush of the season. We're getting closer to figuring out the start of this season's The Weekend Gardener.. hard to believe this will be our 5th season on the radio!! Crazy how time flies.. We'll have the same time slot and day as the previous few years - every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm Atlantic time. Soon, I'll have more details, but rest assured, there will be some amazing guests - as always - and a lot of fun! Plus, great giveaways - one big one in the first month of the show!! Stay tuned for details..

For now though, if you have any suggestions of guests or ideas that you'd like covered, please feel free to comment or e-mail me!

I can also confirm that I'll be returning to the Ideal Home Show for the 3rd year in a row for a series of spring lectures. I'll be there on Saturday, April 2nd at noon and 3 pm and again on Sunday, April 3rd at noon and 3 pm. My lecture topics will be 'Backyard Veggie Gardens' - Creating your own organic paradise and 'Hot New Plants for 2011' - to include everything from shrubs to perennials to annuals to container plants to veggies. These will be powerpoint presentations and I'll be sharing a lot of photos from our gardens! For more info, check out:

As well, I'll be going to Kingswood Garden Club, Bible Hill Garden Club and the annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs in June, among others to offer various lectures.

This is going to be a busy spring - but a fun one! I can't wait - and I really want to hear your ideas for show segments!

Happy Gardening!

Kids in the Garden

I grew up with a summer veggie patch. It was planted in late May and we harvested in August and into early September. Then, it was forgotten until the following spring. We had no idea about succession planting and everything was planted in 15-foot long rows - even the corn (no wonder we only harvested a few ears each year - corn should be planted in blocks for wind pollination!) We did get a decent crop of beans each year though (Top Notch Golden Wax bush beans) and it was the fresh taste of those beans that piqued my interest in the garden. They just tasted better than store bought beans. A rule which holds true for pretty much all veggies!

Years later, our kids have grown up with a garden.. They're still young, but it is an important part of their lives and they play a vital role in choosing what to grow each year. (No, we don't need 1000 sq feet of popcorn).. I also have a bunch of young nieces and nephews and they adore the garden. The first question when they visit is 'what can I pick?' I think potatoes are the most popular crop to harvest - who doesn't love digging for buried nuggets?!?

Even my 2 year old nephew likes to get in on the action. In fact, whenever he comes over - 12 months of the year - he always asks to go and pick something from the garden. I love that he knows that there is always something up there - tomatoes in the summer, greens and carrots in the winter - and he doesn't think that it's strange to pick veggies in the winter.

This year, I thought it would be nice to give them each a 4 x 4-foot plot in the garden to call their own. I've asked what each of them would like to plant and (no surprise) have enough seed for them plant. Jellybeans was a popular request, but I think most have settled on a mix of peas, beans, cucumbers, carrots and lettuce. Although one of my nieces just wants rhubarb and peach trees. Hmm.. maybe outside the veggie garden..?

I strongly urge anyone who has kids (or even teenagers) in their lives (or on their street!) to give them their own patch of earth. Include veggies, as well as flowers like sunflowers, nasturtiums and marigolds. We even add homemade toad houses, garden gnomes (an embarrassing obsession of mine) and plenty of structures to hide under (teepees, tunnels and such).

Keep it fun - purple potatoes, beans or carrots, lemon cucumbers, black tomatoes, French radishes and gourds (such a wide array - snake, birdhouse, bottle, nest egg, etc.), for example! Get them involved in all aspects, planting, watering and picking. Just watch out when you give them a hose - I've gotten sprayed more than one (I assume it was an accident!!)

For more info on gourds and gardening with kids, just search my past posts..

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Looking for Spring..?

Ok.. just when I think that spring might finally be pushing winter out of the way, winter pushes back - hard. I was going to pop up to the cold frames this morning to scrape off any snow or ice, but it's just too darn cold! It's -19 C with the windchill and I'm beginning to feel like spring isn't ever going to arrive.. The silver lining is that the forecast for the weekend calls for sun with temperatures hovering around 7 C ( above zero)!! I'll believe it when I see it, but for now, my fingers are firmly crossed in hopes we get that mild spell.

After the photo of my out-of-control veggie seed box a few days ago, I've been getting e-mails asking what on earth is in that box! Well, I thought I'd give you a bit of a peek inside.. I won't list everything, as that would take all week, but I will share some of my new acquisitions or things that I'm particularly excited about. In my own defense, I did clean up the box just after Christmas and discarded old seed or things that weren't successful or worth growing again, so everything in the box is fresh and/or new for this coming planting season. I just need to realize that I only have so much space in the garden! A common problem among gardeners, I think! :)

Tomatoes - here are a few of the tomatoes in my seed box:
  • Cole (from - 3" red fruits. An extra early family heirloom from the Canadian prairies selected to mature in a short growing season. I choose this variety because the owner of Annapolis Seeds told me it was his quickest maturing tomato and one of the best tasting. 
  • Chiapis Wild Tomato (also annapolis seeds) - Tiny fruits that are intensely sweet. Wild looking plants. Should be fun.. I'm hoping the fruits are as sweet as sungold! (a girl can wish, can't she?)
  • Costoluto Genovese - LOVE this old Italian heirloom. The 3 to 4-inch wide red fruits are incredible pleated and simply gorgeous. They're perfect in any bruschetta, salsa, sandwich or sauce. So good!
  • Big Rainbow - Another heirloom, this big beefsteak is delicious and beautiful. At the bottom of the large fruits, deep ruby colour streaks upwards, blending with golds and oranges, creating a multi-toned effect. Great in sandwiches! (Photo of Big Rainbow)
  • Black Cherry - Larger than most of our other cherry tomatoes, the fruits of black cherry are dusky burgundy-purple in colour and boast a sweet, smoky, intense flavour. Very yummy! They do split if not picked often though.
  • In a previous post, listed off the tomatoes that the 'North Carolina Tomato Man', Craig LeHoullier sent me a few weeks ago. There are 8 new-to-me varieties including Mexico Midget, Rosella Purple, Speckled Roman, Dwarf Sweet Sue and so on. ( Plus, I have others that we grow every year - Sungold, Persimmon, Black Krim, Brandywine, etc.

I have to admit, I've got a thing for cukes. I'm always looking for unique ones to try and because they can be space pigs, we grow them up on tall A-frame trellises. Lemon cukes are our #1 pick, but here are a few others that we grow:

  • Suyo Long (annapolis seeds) - This Chinese variety has long, thin, ribbed fruits that are crispy and sweet. We trellis ours for the straightest fruits. If left to grow on the ground, they curl up like snakes! (fun for the kids)
  • Sweet Armenian - Botanically a melon, the cucumber-like fruits of this old variety are pale green, ribbed and can grow very long if left to their own devices. We tend to pick them when they're about 8 to 10 inches long. The flesh is crisp and bitter-free. Plus, because they're ribbed, they look so pretty cut into slices on a plate - like flowers!
  • Garden Oasis - Because my hubby hails from Lebanon, we grow a lot of middle eastern veggies. Garden Oasis is a beit-alpha hybrid cuke that has thin skin (never bitter) and cool, crunchy flesh. We pick them when they're around 4 to 6 inches in length for gourmet baby cukes! When my parents-in-law visit during the main growing season, they can be found in the garden eating these cukes, as well as the artichokes, peas and tomatoes!
Greens - Ok, I have a LOT of greens. We use them to succession plant (I have harvested up to 7 crops from one patch of earth during an 8 month span in the past) and we also use them to interplant - between cabbages, broccoli, under trellises and teepees, etc. Plus, I want a salad every day, so we need a lot of greens. Here are a few of our favourites:
  • Bianca riccia endive - This is a hard worker in the garden. I plant the seeds in mid-March in the cold frames and we'll have a steady supply until the following March (unless we run out in mid-winter!) In the summer garden, it bears very well - even in the heat.. Sometimes, we pick the outside leaves, allowing the center to keep maturing. Other times, we cut the whole plant back to a 1-inch stub, water it with some fish fertilizer and it resprouts - we can do this 'cut and come again' harvest 2 to 3 times per plant! 
  • Mustards - A zippy little green, we love Giant Red, Osaka Purple, Green Wave and more. They are excellent when picked young, but can be left to mature for stir-fries.. a bit spicy at that point though! 
  • Mizuna - Another must-have, mizuna
  • Lettuce - What can I say about lettuce.. we grow at least 15 to 20 varieties a year. There are so many textures and colours.. I love them all. Outredgeous stands out for me, as well as Red Salad Bowl (great even in the deep-freeze of winter in the frames). Black Seeded Simpson is a classic - lime green, cool tolerant and one of the first harvests of the new year. Also, I love lettuce mixes, which we use to edge our garden beds. Let's us grow more in a small space and looks nice too.
  • Also, tatsoi, pak choi, spinach, arugula (our favourite green), mache, claytonia, etc..

Peppers - I have mixed feelings about peppers. In the past, they've been iffy in regards to a decent harvest, but in the past few years, I've managed to get the hang of pepper growing and have fallen in love with a wide range of peppers. I really love hot peppers - jalapeno, cayenne and such. This will be an exciting year, as Craig LeHoullier (see link above for his site/blog) also sent me a bunch of pepper seed, as well as tomatoes. Here are a few that he sent me - can't wait to grow them!!

The comments below are from Craig on each pepper, as they're all new to me! 

Hot Peppers
  • Fish - all plant, Jalapeno shape and size fruit are green with white stripes ripening to deep red, plant foliage is bicolor green and white, just beautiful, very hot.  Nearly gone.
  • Variegata - remarkable plant is nearly black purple and white, hardly any green in full sun, small slender black purple fruit ripen red
  • Chinese Five Color - colors similar to Bolivian Rainbow but plant is more upright, peppers larger and cone shaped, fiery hot
  • Gemstone - my own selection, compact black purple leaf plant with multicolored cone shaped hot peppers, perfect for a flower garden
  • Trifetti - gorgeous plant, foliage is green, white and lavender, fruit are small bullet shaped black purple, ripen red.
  • Peruvian Purple - Similar to Pretty Purple - whole plant is black purple, fruits glossy black purple, cone shaped, ripen deep red, beautiful and very hot.
  • Bolivian Rainbow - dusky purple green foliage, small upright cones ripen yellow through lavender, white, yellow, orange and red, nice bushy habit, perfect ornamental, extra hot.
Sweet Peppers
  • Fire Opal - another Islander selection - lavender to deep gold - lovely and unique
  • Super Stuff - nice long bell, pale yellow that ripens to orange red.
  • White Gold - I don't have any details on this one yet - sounds intriguing though.
  • Jimmy Nardello - remarkable - a real pepper machine, long (nearly 12 inch!) twisted, slender deep green fruit ripen red, great for grilling
  • Amethyst - my own selection from Islander, lavender bell ripens red
Ok.. well, I've rambled on long enough this morning and only detailed a few types of seeds in this crazy box.. I'm planning on seeding the tomatoes and peppers this week, along with some eggplants and will post more once that is done..

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Biosolids - Pro or Con?

Last summer, there was quite the controversy in Halifax about using biosolids as a fertilizer on public (and private) land. Debate raged for weeks and the topic made headlines across the province. In order to educate the public on the issue, a soil conference will be held at Pier 21 on Sunday March 13 starting at 9 am.

The organizers of the event - Lucinda Pigdon and Lil MacPherson (of the acclaimed restaurant, The Wooden Monkey) - are inviting everyone to this free conference that boasts an impressive line-up of speakers and an afternoon screening of the film 'Dirt'. For more information, please check out the following link.