Spring – It Is About Time

daffodil fresh wiarton
Early bloomers brave the blustery spring weather.

Spring is here. No really. I think this time it’s going to stay.

Not like all those other times we had our hopes dashed. Don’t even talk to me about April when the most snow we saw all season fell. Of course, we had taken the snow blower off the tractor.

As the snow piled up, I watched all of my precious crop planning get backed up further and further. The temperatures stayed too cold to work in the unheated green house. And it continued to snow.

But , darn it, I kept up with my seeding schedule. The plants just kept growing. Then I ran out of space. Well, lights actually.

tomato seedlings fresh wiarton
Tomato seedlings growing in the hoop house, when weather permits.

We are off-grid, or we could have just slapped up a few more sets of lights, no problem. But when you are trying to balance power availability with power needs, things get a bit tricky. You have to be creative. And you have to adjust your planting schedule.

Thankfully now, only the tenderest of the seedlings are inside the house. The rest are thriving in the hoop house as I do the dance of daily (hourly) temperature moderation by rolling up, then rolling down the sides and throwing water at the driest soil as needed.

But the attention is paying off, I like to tell myself. Whether it’s due to my antics with ventilation and watering, or not, there are a few things thriving in the hoop house.

Claytonia

claytonia fresh produce wiarton
Claytonia is an unusual but tasty salad green for cold seasons.

Until last April, I had never eaten claytonia, although I had read about it in Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook years ago. On a whim I threw some claytonia seed in the soil one autumn along with some spinach and miner’s lettuce. None of the claytonia grew, so I promptly forgot about my experiment.

The following spring weird spoon-shaped rosettes started happily growing. And growing. Then there were flowers! Yup, claytonia. I tried it and was pleased with the fresh green flavour. It looked kinda fancy on my plate, too.

Little did I know, the claytonia was setting a seed bank in my hoop house that I plan to reap the benefits of for seasons to come. We can harvest it quite ruthlessly and it keeps coming back. But, it does not like hot weather, so we are treating it like the seasonal specialty it is.

Orach

orach seedlings fresh produce wiarton
Seedlings of purple orach started themselves in the hoop house from last year’s plants.

These little beauties are such a welcome site after the bleak mid-winter. Rosy and slightly salty, orach adds a nice flavour profile to any salad. I talk more about it in my Seasonal Eating post from last year.

I think we need to have a contest to come up with a better name, though.

Seedlings

seedlings fresh produce wiarton
A selection of seedlings spend time outside before being planted in the garden.

Some of the cold tolerant seedlings are graduating to the great outdoors. They have to be introduced slowly to full sun, wind and cold night temperatures. More monitoring is required for these plants on their “field trip.” I am turning into quite the mother hen to these trays of vegetables and herbs.

This weekend I’ll plant out more kale and maybe some lettuce. Other seedlings are on their way to larger pots and homes with other gardeners.

The Wiarton Farmers’ Market is only two weeks away.  We’re grateful spring has decided to stick around!

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Tomatoes in Winter

 

Polka Dot Hen Produce fresh produce Wiarton Farmers' Market
Fresh tomatoes from Polka Dot Hen Produce destined for the Wiarton Farmers’ Market

Looking at this picture of our fresh tomatoes almost hurts at this time of year.

It is February, and outside the wind is whipping the trees mercilessly. The second thaw of the winter has reduced the snow pack, but it’s going to be a long time until these beauties are on my plate again.

I’m doing what I can to set the stage for their return.

Almost with mouth watering, I’m planning this year’s tomato selections.  The seed catalogues are arrayed around me on the desk as I create my short list.

Deciding for or against a variety is based on several observations over the season. Then, the task every autumn is to review how each tomato variety performed overall. This is crucial,  because right now, there needs to be a balance between the dreams espoused by those glossy seed catalogues and reality.

Back to my plate, today.

There is a little good news stored in the freezer. While the tomato production this autumn was outpacing market sales and our own consumption, I took the time to put up some of the goodness for a time such as this.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

These take time to make, but don’t need to be tended constantly. The recipe is pretty loose; once you make a batch, you’ll get the hang of it.

Start by slicing your tomatoes and placing them on a parchment-lined baking tray, sliced side up.

sliced tomatoes Polka Dot Hen Produce
Sliced tomatoes ready for roasting on parchment-lined baking trays

Now you have a choice to make. Do you want simple roasted tomatoes or do you want to fancy them up?

sliced tomatoes Polka Dot Hen Produce
Ready to roast. Now for a drizzle of olive oil.

For simple, delicious goodness, simply drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil. For fancier fare, drizzle the tomatoes not only with olive oil, but also with balsamic vinegar.  Pinches of salt and pepper, or thinly sliced garlic are tasty additions.

Roast at 350F until the tomatoes start to shrivel. Now lower the temp in the oven and continue to cook them. The timing depends on the size of your tomatoes and how thickly they are cut.  Larger tomatoes can take a couple of hours. These cherry and saladette tomatoes took about forty-five minutes.

Keep the heat on until they are shrivelled, sweet and smoky. I let them cool in the oven once it is turned off to get a more sun-dried tomato texture.

Roasted tomatoes Polka Dot Hen Produce
The finished product

These tomatoes are ready to eat right away. In fact, they are hard to stop eating.

But the really good news for us in February, is that slow roasted tomatoes  can also be frozen.  Thaw and eat as is, or puree into a delicious sauce.

I suppose this technique could be tried on those hard softballs they try to pass off as “tomatoes” in the grocery store. As for me, I’ll head to the freezer and bring out another package of summer.

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Seasonal Eating – Spring

Close-up of pear tree blossoms
Pear tree blossoms are a welcome sign that spring is has arrived and lots of delicious seasonal flavours await.

 

I used our last homegrown carrots last weekend. They were purple carrots–a variety called Starburst–that I dug out of the garden in January. I put them into a curry that got slammed into the oven so I could get back to transplanting Swiss chard. Hours later, those carrots were still pretty tasty, as was the curry.

Starburst carrots dug in winter from the garden
Carrots dug from the garden January 22, 2017. Deliciously sweet!

 

Seasonal eating has been on trend for a while now. It’s something we are encouraged to explore to benefit our health, and the health of the planet. Growing most of our own vegetables here means we’ve really embraced seasonal eating. Maybe we are embracing it just a little too much, according to certain family members.

Continue reading “Seasonal Eating – Spring”