Tending Tuesdays: What’s happened to my garden

10 08 2010

I am home now, and the anticipation of seeing my garden is passed.  I now know all the ins and outs of what has happened since I left.

The sad news is, unsurprisingly, my cucumber plants did not overcome downy mildew and are now in the final stages of the disease and will, most likely, be completely dead by the end of the week.  The happy part is, the cucumbers hadn’t all been affected yet, and so I got to harvest a giant bowl of them!  Most of them are too big for pickling, but I feel like I will probably ferment some relish instead and maybe make a nice, cool, cucumber soup.

(my dying cucumber plants, next to a healthy nasturtium and a healthy, but completely unproductive broccoli. I think it was planted too late)

The most exciting news is, after gorging on nitrogen and growing into bushes, with no fruits, one of my pepper plants has a glorious, baby pepper growing on it!  Hopefully it will be able to mature before the end of the growing season.

Another piece of exciting news is that my squash are reproducing now and I have at least two squash growing.  The sad news is it looks like they may have powdery mildew.  All this humidity is a real excitement for the fungi family this year.

(a baby squash with its glorious flower still attached)

My carrots, beets and peas have all sprouted, as have my basil seeds.  Calendula is still blooming, though I was able to pull up some plants that had obviously completed their life cycle.  If they have their way, my whole garden will be calendula next year too! Zucchini is easing up a little on the crazy production of fruits, which is fine by me as I’ve eaten more zucchini this year than ever before. 

(peas on the left and beets and carrots on the right)

The potatoes are seeming pretty happy and my fig tree is putting on foliage like crazy, which is awesome considering it got sunburned badly earlier this spring and lost ALL of its foliage.  So, maybe next year we’ll be able to get a good harvest of figs from it….

Another sad loss was my coriander seeds which seemed to have been removed/”maintained” by someone in my absence.  Instead of a beautiful bounty of many seeds, I came home to a small handful that was left on a seriously trimmed stalk.  So, I planted them in the space they were before and maybe I’ll get some cilantro out of it.

It was so nice to come home to the bounty of my garden.  I love it.  I love the picking, the weeding, the growth and the death.  All of it reminds me of how precious our food is, and how much effort goes into growing good, organic produce.  Today, I spent the morning with little A out there and came home with a big bowl of goodies.

(so, this would look better, but little A insisted that most of the cucumbers be photographed inside an unused dog poo bag.  so, imagine the bag brimming with luscious cucumbers.  Also, imagine a REALLY happy toddler, brimming with joy from the bag full of cucumbers)

Also, this year, I am learning SOOO much about gardening.  Books are great, but until you actually throw seeds into the dirt, there’s not much learning going on.  I am already planning my gardens for next year in my head, based on what I learned this year, and how much of what I actually like to have and eat.


Foodie Fridays: Fermented Zucchini Relish and Traditional Cucumber Pickles

6 08 2010

Before we left for the great North, we harvested our garden and I traveled the highways with a huge bag of pickling cucumbers, a bag of zucchini and a couple mason jars.

I love the bounty of summer and I intend, this year, to preserve it more than ever before.  And, so far, I’m well on my way to that.  I am also trying to avoid the new, commercially inspired methods of preservation: canning with lots of sugar, pickling with vinegar, dehydrating with sulphites etc.

Last year, I was introduced to a magical book called “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon.  It changed the way I looked at food, and inspired me towards more traditional foods and methods of preparation.  One of the big changes is fermentation, which is incredibly exciting.

Fermenting foods, rather than preserving them in vinegar, enhances the nutritional value, populates your belly with amazing beneficial bacteria and tastes pretty delicious.  I started my experiments last summer in fermentation and, after reading “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, I was inspired to experiment even more!

Having discovered, last year, on the last week of pickling cucumber season at the farmer’s market that, indeed, fermented cucumbers are the most delicious pickles ever to exist.  Unfortunately, it was the last week, and I only got to experience one jar of the delicious tang of those lovely cukes.  I pledged that I would not suffer the same fate this year and planted three hills of pickling cucumbers this year with a vow to ferment as many as possible.

Curcubits, the family that squash, zucchini and cucumbers are a part of, are a prolific family, as I mentioned before.  They like to shoot out babies as fast as they can, and bless us with their bounty.  So, not only am I overwhelmed with pickling cucumbers, but also zucchini.

I like picking zucchini young, while they still have that tender flavour that melts in the mouth.  Too big and they become tough and watery, not really good for much other than zucchini bread, or, zucchini relish.  So, I decided that I would try some fermented zucchini relish with the one zucchini that evaded my eyes and grew past the tender point, and a little end of a zucchini that I had.

I started with the pickles and decided to add some garlic this time, from my dad’s neighbour’s garden.  HUGE bulbs (!) all organically grown and gifted to me (thank you Ralph).

The next thing you need to do is wash the cucumbers. Make sure all the spikey parts are off and that there is no left-over blossom clinging on to the end.

Now, because I live with a small person, who is generally not going to eat an entire fermented pickle, I cut the pickles into slices.  I also find that this makes it more efficient for space, as you can fit more sliced cucumbers into a mason jar than whole ones.  But, there is no reason you have to slice them, I just prefer to.  I also cut off the end, but, again, as long as they are clean and not with stem, you can put them whole into the jar.

After I sliced them, I stuffed them in a jar, in a clove of garlic and an oak leaf.  I have heard that oak leaves, cherry leaves and grape leaves can help fermented things from getting too mushy due to their high tannin content.  So, I threw one in, because mushy cucumbers are yucky. The oak leaf is not necessary either, but I thought I would see what difference it makes, versus my non-oak leaf cucumbers.

Next, I mixed cold water with about two tablespoons of salt into a pitcher, mixed and poured over the cucumbers until they cover the jars by about 1 inch.  It is important to note that, whenever you are working with ferments and water, your water must be non-chlorinated.  I am very lucky to be at my dad’s where non-chlorinated water comes out of the tap, but most of us either have to leave the water out for 24 hours, or boil it and let it cool, to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

Now, when I did this at home, I used smaller jars on top of the bigger jars as weights, to keep the cukes under the brine, but I don’t have those here, and they are really not necessary.  It’s good to check on them every so often while they ferment on your counter to ensure they are under the brine, otherwise they start growing lactobacillus on the top and it looks kind of gross, though is still edible. So, I just put the lid on, left it loose and put it on a corner of the counter, where they will ferment until I leave.

After cleaning up from the pickles, I decided to try zucchini relish.  I have never made regular zucchini relish before so I was at a bit of a loss as to where to start.  Luckily, the collective consciousness…errrr.  internet, exists, and I asked Google and was gifted with this beautiful post to work from.  I have no tolerance for spicy things, so I knew I was going to have to change the recipe to accommodate my personal tastes.  In the end I worked with this:

1 large-ish zucchini (use as many as you want)

1 chunk of red pepper

1 small spanish onion, fresh from the neighbour’s garden

1 clove garlic

mustard, chinese five spice, and all spice


I scooped out the seeds from the zucchini and cut the garlic, onion and peppers into chunks.  Then, I threw them in the food processor with the grating attachment on it, because, well, it’s SOOOO easy and fast.  You could do it by hand if you feel so inclined.

I then added the salt until it tasted nice and salty and flavourful, about a tablespoon.

I also added in a couple of oak leaves, to keep the texture firm.

Then, I ground up the spices in a mortar and pestle.  As I didn’t really know how much to use, I eye-balled it and am hoping for the best.  You may have noticed that this is how I cook, as there are no real amounts to this recipe at all. This is how much I used, for a reference:

I then added that to the mix and put it all in a plastic yogurt container, pressed on it until the juices come up over the top.  I would use a weight, but I don’t have one.  Weights make life better in ferments, but are not necessary.

In the end, I ended up with three litres of cucumber pickles and a yogurt container of relish.  I will let them rest on my counter until they are bubbly and then I will move them to the fridge (if you have cold storage you can use that instead) and eat them on all the most delicious things I can think of.

I am excited to give you an update as to how they all actually taste.  MMMMMM!!!

And, a special thank you to Dad and Sara for letting me use their fancy new camera.  I forgot mine at home and am glad that I could use theirs to make this post more interesting.


Tending Tuesday: What is going on in my garden?

3 08 2010

I miss it like crazy.  It is like another little baby, only this one is much more forgiving, sleeps through the night, every night (until frost that is) and well… I can eat it. 🙂

I sit here wondering: has the downy mildew that showed up on my cucumbers taken over, or was the reiki successful at helping it overcome the fungus?  Have the squash finally sprouted both male and female flowers at the same time so I can have squash this year? Are the potatoes dried up and shriveled in their bright blue containers?  Is anyone picking the calendula?

Honestly, I love my garden SO much.  It has given me so much abundance this year and will continue to do so into the fall.  It has taught me a lot about what to do, and what not to do and when to do nothing.  These are important lessons.

Currently, I have three 4′ x 10′ raised beds, an herb spiral, two containers of potatoes and a fig tree with calendula friends in it.

In the first bed that I planted I decided to try a permaculture technique of polyculture and dense plantings.  The idea is that planting densely allows for a living mulch and you get to have continuous harvest of deliciousness, as you harvest young plants.

Here is a picture of what my polyculture could, theoretically, look like, so you’re not so bored.  I would post one of mine, but I’m not there. And, this one has way more vegetables than mine.  😉

I planted assorted greens, beets, herbs and, as a strange inspiration, edible flowers (sunflower, borage, caledula and coriander).  The polyculture has been working really well, except for the fact that I didn’t recall that calendula was actually such a huge plant and it has totally taken over the garden.  I don’t have the heart to pull the plants, so I am allowing them to flower and some of them to go to seed.

In that bed, on the edge, I also did a planting of peas, which I thought were shelling peas, but ended up being snap peas.  I just pulled them out and replaced them with a row of carrots and one of beets.

On the far end there is a pickling cucumber patch, which, until the day we left (sunday) was doing wonderfully.  Sunday morning, we awake to downy mildew, which I had just learned about the day before at the farmer’s market, spreading its brown, spotty sickness through the sap of my delicious pickling cucumbers.

I am not a pickle kinda girl in the traditional sense.  Vinegar pickles are, in my books, a travesty of culinary expression.  The truth about preserving cucumbers lies in the fermentation process. These pickles are, in fact, the best thing I’ve ever tasted in the pickle vein of existence.  Even staunch anti-pickle advocates will eat my fermented pickles.  And, luckily for you, you will learn all about them this week, in foodie fridays. Wait for it.

So, it was with great sadness that little A and I discovered the downy mildew.  We harvested what we thought might be our last cucumber harvest, prayed, offered reiki and love over them and then left them to their own devices as we left for the great North.

There is a part of me that wants to call my neighbours.  “How are my cucumbers?” I would ask. And, I’m sure, the response would be greatly unsatisfying.  Something like “Pretty good.” or “I haven’t really checked them lately.”  Which would both be perfectly understandable answers, but not nearly the in depth communication with my cucumber plants that I am looking for.

The other bed, closest to the road, is full of butternut squash and a zucchini plant.  I would add that there is also a few fennel plants and some pepper plants and even a dash of chard and nasturtiums in there, but they are really overshadowed, in every sense, by the girth of our squash plants.  Cucurbit family is a very prolific family, something like a settler’s Catholic family, shooting out runners like babies like that was the only thing it had a purpose in doing. Wait, that is it’s only purpose…

However, the one squash that we had, we accidentally harvested when cutting back some of runners so they didn’t take over the road. And so far, no other male and female flowers have existed together on the plant, and so, no babies.  I WANT BABIES! (not ones that I grow in my belly though.  Not right now.  OK?  OK.)

I want to see my darling squash as they birth their little babies.  I want to see the beautiful male flowers right along side of the female plants.  I want to know the difference in  what they look like.

So, I sit here.  In my mother’s livingroom.  I wonder about all these things, and more.  I wonder about whether the carrot seeds have enough moisture to germinate.  What about the bush peas? But it will all have to wait, as will pictures, until next week, when I am back in my little haven of urban abundance.

Until then, if you happen to be passing by, give my plants a little hello, some love and a maybe even harvest a zucchini or two. If you let me know about it, I can live vicariously through you.