Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Farm Crawl

With our lavender planted and thriving it was time for an excursion to the country. The GO train ride from Toronto to Burlington made us feel like we were leaving Paris for a weekend in Provence.  We met my Dad at Aldershot Station and drove west to Dundas, Ontario for the first stop on our three farm tour.

Kevin and Abigail of Weir’s Lane Lavender had invited us on a Farm Crawl they organized with two other farms. When we pulled up to Kevin’s farm the rows of lavender in the front field and the stucco, Mediterranean style house made us wonder if in fact we were in Provence.

Kevin was just starting his beekeeping demonstration when we arrived.  Mia kept her distance but I had kept bees in my youth so I got right in there and helped with the demonstration.  Not only do the bees pollinate the lavender, but they produce amazingly delicious lavender honey.

After checking out their recent planting and striking established rows, Mia tried her hand at making a lavender wand.

I thought she might cast wonderful lavender spells with it but she mostly uses it to smack me when I annoy her;  at least it smells nice when she does.  The lavender releases fragrance when the flowers are bruised by rolling it between your hands or whacking your partner with it.

Abigail and Mia showing off the final lavender wand.

We toured the farm store, sampled some lavender flavoured food and were struck by the many herbs lavender can be mixed with.

I am going to try and grow all the herbs for Herbs de Provence in the herb garden next year.  I even bought two Royal Velvet lavender plants to plant in our garden.  They are one of the nicest edible varieties.

Misha and Kevin checking out the front lavender field

Our next stop was ManoRun Organic Farm. This rustic mixed farm featured organic vegetables and herbs, horses, cows, chickens and an outdoor brick pizza oven. 

We learned something about the borage that is growing in our yard.  I had no idea you could eat it and use it to flavour water.  It’s great for skin health and apparently a great addition to the compost heap once it is harvested.  We love borage!

The last stop was Jerry’s berries where we filled up on raspberries.  The berries were amazing but I kept trying to switch rows because the berries in the adjacent rows always seemed a little nicer and more plentiful.  Of course once I got to the other row, the row I had come from looked better.  Suffice it to say, Mia filled her container in half the time I did by staying in the same row.  After a short jam making demo we were back on the road and headed to the train station.

The search for the perfect berry; check out the perfect berry picking form.

On the train ride back we reflected on our amazing day in the country and felt completely satisfied with our little taste of Provence as we pulled into the station in Paris. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Vegelicious Garden Update

I love gardening.  It's recreation,  therapy and a workout all rolled into one with the added benefit of producing delicious, nutritious food just steps away from our back door.  It also evokes fond memories of my childhood and the kitchen gardens of my grandparents.  I can still taste the sweet peas freshly picked and eaten right out of the garden.  We plant vegetables we love to eat that produce for an extended period or have a large harvest that can be easily stored for a long time. To get a head start on the garden, I made a veggie planting plan in January on an excel spreadsheet roughly to scale.  There are online planning tools that are really great if you like something ready made.  I still plant in rows but I plant close together and band sow my seeds.  There is a movement in vegetable gardening to block plant.  That is when you divide your garden in 1 foot squares and plant a number of squares of each vegetable by broadcast seeding the area or evenly spacing seedlings.  Both systems have their advantages.  Below is my Back Garden Plan.

The first things to be planted in early April were peas, onions, kale, lettuce radishes and early carrots.  End of April our broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi seedlings went out along with carrot, parsnip and beet seeds.   By the second week of May the tomato, bean, sunflower, celery and squash seedlings were in and bean seeds planted.  The basil and cucumber went in late but should be fine.  

May Back Garden

In the kitchen garden we planted crops we most often use as it is just steps from the front door: scarlet runner beans, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, onions, collards, spinach, arugula, radish, celery, coriander and sunflower (for aesthetics).

May Kitchen Garden

In our herb garden the sage, oregano, thyme, mint and curley parsley survived the winter so we just had to plant some cilantro, rosemary, dill, garlic chives, Italian parsley, lovage and chamomile.

Herb Garden

My strategy was to get the cool crops in early so we could start harvesting in May and early June.  I planned to do a second later planting of another crop alongside the lettuce and spinach since these do not do well in warm weather and will be done by mid-June.  By then the second crop would be ready to take over the row.  I also like high density planting to get more plants in and keep down the weeds.  If your soil is rich most plants can handle it. Here are the veggie gardens in mid-July.

July Back Garden

July Kitchen Garden
So far the plan is working.  By mid-may we were eating early salad greens, radishes, onions and herbs.  In early June we added beet greens, kale, collard greens and zucchini .  We even had beans from the bean seedlings that were ready before the snow peas. 
Now in mid-July we are heavily harvesting beans, kale, onions, garlic  and the last of the peas. Broccoli, sunflowers, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers are on the way.  Misha

Monday, 2 July 2012

Rain barrel in the front yard - Curb appeal faux pas or not?

We installed a rain barrel in the back yard and have been contemplating putting one in the front as well. Our Norway Maple is a very thirsty tree. It sucks most of the water from the front yard and its canopy acts like an umbrella deflecting water out to the edge of the yard.   Our hope is to divert water from the roof onto the front yard to provide additional moisture for our native woodland plants. Our only hesitation was the aesthetics of the barrel in the front. A plastic barrel sitting in one’s front yard is not the most appealing look. See what I mean?
We are also still conscious of our neighbours’ scepticism of our front yard native garden project and a rain barrel in the front does not help. Despite this concern, we went ahead and bought another rain barrel from the Toronto Botanical Gardens.  They had the best price and we like the idea of supporting them.  We chose the terra cotta colour to blend in with our red brick. Mia was confident that we could integrate the barrel with our native garden. 

How we did it
The rain barrel came with a tap I inserted into the small hole at the bottom, a debris trap that sits in the hole in the top and an overflow connector and pipe that attaches to the hole on the back side of the barrel near the top.  

The first step was to unscrew the elbow and the drain pipe extension from the down spout. Next I placed the barrel in the area that we wanted it.  Our neighbour had some broken patio stones she no longer needed and I used these to create a solid base for the barrel and to raise it up to improve flow from the tap.  I placed the barrel on the patio stones to accurately determine where I should cut the downspout.

Next, I eye-balled where to cut the downspout using the old elbow joint and a piece of drain pipe.  It is critical to maintain an angle downward to the top of the barrel. My trusty hacksaw cut through the drain pipe quite easily.  Mia helped hold the drain pipe steady which made the cutting easier.

After that, all I had to do was attach the old elbow to the cut downspout and cut a piece of the old drain pipe and attach it to the elbow to reach to the barrel.  Then I connected a new elbow to direct the water to the hole in the top of the barrel.  I secured the pipes together with drain pipe screws and all we had to do was wait for rain. 

We covered the barrel with a cloak of our Prince of Darkness Clematis to help camouflage it. 

We added some ferns and plants to make the corner look luscious and green. The barrel blends in well and we have no regrets in installing it in the front yard. Misha