Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

Episode 45 – Greens to Market


My buddy Travis has been doing cool food stuff for ages, and you might recognize him from prior episodes about the Edmonton Organic Growers’ Guild or ice fishing. In fact, we were sitting on the ice catching whitefish when he mentioned his spring plans to do an intensive backyard greens operation for sale to market, restaurants, and door-to-door by bike. I knew this episode was in my future. Such a cool idea. What I hadn’t planned was that he’d be selling out in a blink at a single market, and that the excess greens I was experiencing in my gardens would be of use to him. He was all over the idea of aggregating community backyard growers for sale at market, so he now sells ‘Vitamin K’, which is the seasonal blend-of-the-week from my yard. It sells out. His entire production sells out. We’re both ramping up production to try to keep up. The funny part: I’m still growing all the stuff I normally would for my family – apparently my small yard can grow enough for us AND have excess to get to the community via the market. Who knew.

For those that bought, here’s what’s in it this week: bionda di lyon chard, spinach, french tarragon, chervil, red russian kale, miner’s lettuce, mache, wild chive blossom, forono and bull’s blood beet green, arugula [leaf, white blossom, and buds], mizuna [leaf and yellow blossom], komatsuna, mustard [the hot one], dandelion, chick weed [yup, it's edible and good for you], tatsoi, Italian oregano for some savoury action, a touch of dill, a mix of lettuces, and a variety of other this and thats. This week saw the last of the spinach until the fall crop, and many of the blossoms there this week, won’t be there next. Not because I’m trying to switch things up. Nature’s doing the switching up.

Travis has been doing some online video about his micro farm, which you can check out here.

Episode 43 – 1Hr Garden


The more I get identified as ‘that local food guy’, the more I entice objections, or rather, rationalizations to defend why folks choose not to eat ‘local’. First of all, it’s worth noting that the term ‘local’ is rather bad terminology. I am not seeking a 100 mile diet. I’m seeking food that’s good for my health, the planet, and the community that grows it. If I lived next door to Monsanto, they would be local, but I wouldn’t support them. Fair? And because I’m a finance an operations management guy, I like to optimize stuff. When it comes to veg and herbs, we generally eat a 20m diet. I digress.

One of the top 2 reasons I hear folks telling me they don’t eat ‘local’ is because it takes too much time. The other one is cost – which I can argue with numbers and win the day – but time, time is a tougher one to explain, to illustrate. So I came up with the 1Hr Garden concept. I’ll allow the video to explain further.

This edit will grow as the season progresses, ie. I’ll be adding to it, rather than creating multiple parts in a series about it. Enjoy.

Wild Asparagus


I’ve been looking forward to this for 9 months. Last August, while looking for mushrooms and saskatoons, I came across a patch of wild asparagus and since have been dreaming of a spring feed of asparagus I didn’t have to grow myself. That day has come. It’s worth noting that I am doubtful this is a native species of any kind, but is more than likely better described as a ‘feral’ asparagus. Some remanent of an old market garden or homestead in the river valley, or seeded by a bird. Or something. I don’t care. It’s giant, awesome, free, tasty asparagus.

The top left photo was today’s score. I’ve never harvested asparagus this thick. Ever. And my dad’s patch is about 20 years old – it’s got nothing on this. The thick ones are as broad as my thumb. Because they’re so giant, they add up fast. I only have a dozen or so, but I think 3 would exceed a normal portion of asparagus. The photo below is what they looked like May 3rd, taken on a forage I led for a crew of crazy-cool Slow Food Canada and Slow Food International folks. It was the first I saw them, so it wasn’t hard to get excited about it. That, and the vast majority of what we harvested was white, the soil around it being loose, and easy to dig down a bit to harvest it while entirely blanched. We ate them shaved and whole, raw, atop fresh eggs scrambled in beurre noisette and wild onion. I am looking forward to a pig out of today’s yield – I’ve been abstaining since last season.

No, I will not tell you where this patch is. But I can tell you that there are other patches around the river valley, and legend is they are even more prolific.

Episode 33 – Doef’s Greenhouses


Doef's Greenhouses

I’ve been wanting to shoot video in a local greenhouse for quite some time. I know, probably sounds odd coming from the guy who eats asparagus in May and June and abstains for the balance of the calendar year until they’re in season again. I may be an idealist most of the time, but I also have a realist streak and know that the bulk of consumers want to eat their favorite veg year-round. I spoke last year at a UofA event at Sunfresh Farms and learned that although we may not know it, a serious % of the cucumber and pepper product you find in your local box grocer is grown locally. Apparently Alberta’s not only good at beef – we’re rocking the cucumber market too. Who knew?

Doef’s Greenhouses is a success story in agriculture, from finding a niche to navigating scale and growth, through to having done some wise succession planning to incorporate the coming generations of farmers. They’ve succeeded both in the wholesale and direct-sales [ie, farmer's markets] markets. Impressive stuff.

It blows my mind that I can shoot this video of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, then drive two miles and go ice fishing to shoot Episode 34, which will consequently be hot on the heels of this one.

Episode 32 – Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes


Eagle Creek Seed PotatoesIt being February and quite possibly a particularly early spring, I was contemplating my annual seed potato order from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes when it dawned on me that perhaps I should go check them out. So I did. I knew they’d be filling my order in the next couple months, so they had to be busy prepping for that busy season – which was exactly the case. More seasonal food action that you perhaps wouldn’t think is going on up north in February.

This farm should be celebrated by Slow Food and anybody who values biodiversity. While others are farming a single variety of potato in serious quantities, this 4th generation family farm is growing 40 or so varieties and counting. Potatoes need not be a boring staple. What struck me when listening to John was his focus on taste – choosing potato varieties because they have the best taste. What a novel concept for something we eat. John also offers some great advice for what varieties to use in different cooking applications. I thought I knew potatoes, but apparently I have a few things to learn. They also do a veg CSA, raise heritage laying hens and turkeys in a straw-bale construction coop, and all kinds of other cool stuff. Add to that a stunning location atop a high point with a view over the Rockies, and it’s quite the memorable place.

Their online catalog is here, if you’re in the mood for potato enlightenment and/or want to order from them. I will be, again.

Garden Greens…in January


Here’s something I wasn’t expecting. Back when building and planting cold frames I had written numerous times how I’d like to see a harvest from them in December. I thought that might be bold. I wondered if I’d have to eat my words. Then in early December, as my garden fork bounced off the frozen soil nearby, it slipped easily into the soil protected by the cold frame, and I dug up some carrots. Mission accomplished. But it didn’t end there.

In this strange spell of warm January weather, when I’d long accounted the arugula and spinach in the cold frames for dead, I noticed that amongst the mature leaves that had clearly been beaten by the cold, younger leaves had emerged, or better survived, or something – whatever the case, what you see in the photo was harvested January 6. This is a deal changer for me. My ‘dream date’ of December harvest has now been moved into January. And with new plants about to be seeded to be transplanted into the cold frames [I'm hoping in February], the gap of non-gardening season is awfully narrower than I had suspected – all without having to use fossil fuels to heat a greenhouse. I suppose that’s the kicker. If it’s a non-energy consumptive solution to growing more of our own fresh, extremely inexpensive, organic food, the cold frame seems like a rudimentary technology that needs some major revisiting, and a serious pat on the back.

Episode 25: Cellar Food


Strange. It’s mid-December, the soil’s frozen, plants toast – but counterintuitively, this time of year is one of the best times of year food-wise. The freezers are full of a variety of meats, fruits, stocks, lard, and more. The wine cellar’s full of apple wines, ciders, and dry cured pork and game, while the root cellar is an exciting world of veg – from squashes to parsnips, potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas, leeks, shallots, and more. It is a time of year rich in food in our home, and will continue to be for some time in fact – nearly all the way into spring when the veg starts to go sideways, the cider stash drops, and the freezers are once again navigable. All the way into the ‘spring gap’ that I’ve largely found ways to close.

Since my cellar seems to be desired stop number one for folks that visit my home, I thought it’d make a decent location to shoot video at a time of year when the food scene has moved from outdoors to underground. It’s a cold place to shoot video – about 2C at this time of year. So I grabbed some things from the cellar, put together a snack for my wife and I, and rolled some…SD card. Rolling tape sounds way cooler.

Direct Seeding Cold Frames…in Winter


I seeded a cold frame today. Yes, that’s right, direct seeded in dirt, on November 27th.

I saw the 9C coming in the forecast and marked it on my calendar for seeding, just in case the soil under my cold frame lids was workable at all. Even if frozen, I had the furrows prepped, and a bucket of soil stowed in my cellar – but lo and behold when I pulled the lids today to expose the soil to the warm temperatures, it was completely loose. At the beginning of November I was having a hard time digging out my leeks because they were so frozen into the element-exposed ground. I’m wishing I’d checked under the cold frames when it was -25C to see if it was frozen then. I’m sure I’ll get that opportunity again very soon.

So out came the seed stash, and I seeded: 2 rows forono beet, one of napoli carrot, touchon carrot, nantes carrot, a row of mixed greens & arugula, a row of spinach, a row of red russian kale mixed with collards,with a big long row of homesteader peas along the back board – there’s netting behind it for them to climb. A lesson learned from last year was that although it was lovely to have loads of greens in the cold frame, when I started harvesting root veg in mid-June, I dearly wished I had planted far more root veg.

Jury’s out on whether or not this seeding will produce a successful yield of anything. My hope is that come mid-February when, according to Eliot Coleman, we have enough sun for vigorous plant growth this far north, they’ll have enough protection to get germinating and growing a good 4-8 weeks earlier than last year. Even if we only get 3-4 weeks earlier than last year, that puts us eating garden root veg in May – when typically the only thing we’d have eaten would be baby greens. And if that’s indeed possible, we should still have root veg in the root cellar by the time baby root veg is ready again. Hard to believe that’s possible here. We’ll see.

November Garden Greens


The snow is falling, it’s -3C, with -20C in the forecast later this week. And yes, still harvesting garden veg. Was last year too. Not because I have a greenhouse, hoop houses, or even stuff under cold frames [well.. I do, but not for this stuff]. Just planted cold hardy veg in August and let them tough out the elements. Even if the bounty is very limited, it makes the winter without element-protected garden veg short when December through February are the only months that don’t see fresh produce coming into the house from the garden. That’s 3 months that I’m forced to cook exclusively from the cellar without fresh yard supplementation. I can happily live with that.  I think the rule of thumb around here for many folks [which used to apply to me too] is to seed May long weekend, and then harvest in September. That means garden produce is available fresh from the yard June through September, or 4 months of the year. Instead of 9. I don’t like that math.

I used to think Kale was a trooper, and it is, but I have collards next to red russian kale, and the collards are winning hands down for cold hardiness. They look fantastic. Who knew. Guess I’m planting them again next year. You’ll notice in the photo below a broccoli side shoot. I love brassicas. They’re tough as nails, good for you, and tasty.

So I’ll polish off what’s left of the greens, check out the cold frame to see how late I can harvest from that for fun, then get ready to start seeding flats in January. Which really leaves December as the only month I get a full-on garden break. I’ll take it.

Root Veg Harvest 2011


Harvesting root veg demarcates the border between fall and winter for me. Since September I’ve been watching the weather, waiting for the cold to come that would force my hand and make me get the produce into the cellar. It was an especially fun game this year with a remarkably temperate fall. I feel like I got away with something harvesting in early November, when many pulled their root crops back in September.

I have to focus on that for a minute, as it’s important. If you pulled root veg to cellar in September, you’ve already got 1-2 months more of storage on your crops than I do. That matters. Vegetables will only store so long. And if a vegetable will survive storage for 4 months, say, I’d rather start that 4 month clock ticking in November than September.

Which brings me to point #2. At the moment, my cellar is 6-8C. With the coming cold, it will soon be close to 3-5C. The veg I did harvest and put up in the cellar [a farm glean] in September got to enjoy some balmy 10-12C temps for a month or more. Not ideal. So the longer I can wait, the colder the cellar is when they go to their winter home, the better it is for the quality and longevity. A rare moment where procrastination pays dividends.

Although I haven’t weighed it, my potato harvest has to be about 3-4 times what it was last year. We have lots for the winter for the first time. Mostly a function of developing more annual veg beds where lawn once stood, partly due to better soil health as time goes on. My fall carrot, rutabaga, and parsnips [photo below] probably add up to 2-3 times what I had last year. Beets are about the same, maybe a bit more. My back’s done with forking. Time for a brandy.