Greens on my plate

Spinach starting to come to life
Spinach starting to come to life after a long winter

There is a time in late February when a little switch in my head clicks over and I am no longer content with the cabbage slaws that have gotten me though the winter. I want greens: vibrant, lively greens, on my plate and they better be fresh.

Nothing in the local grocery can satisfy my craving. Occasionally, I try the hermetically sealed packs of salad greens and spinach from California. Green, yes. Lifeless, also yes.

Last week, the spinach that overwintered in our raised bed under cover finally was of a size that we could pick it. Also, five of last year’s red oak leaf lettuces were shooting new growth. I gingerly picked the largest leaves from both, thinning where I could. I brought the pickings into the house like the Holy Grail. A quick rinse and we had a proper salad featuring our own hard cooked eggs. It was heavenly.

There is nothing  that can compare with freshly picked salad greens given a quick rinse and tossed with your favourite dressing.  At some point though, I do look for another way to prepare spinach. One of my favourite ways is to lightly blanch it and toss with a sesame and soy sauce dressing. This is also a favourite of my daughter who has become my dressing chef. See the recipe here.

The spinach that survives the winter is ready to bolt as soon as the weather warms up, which could be any day now. It will be several weeks until the new spinach seedlings are of a size that we can start picking. We will enjoy this abundance while we have it.

A tasty picking from the garden over the weekend
A tasty picking of spinach from the garden over the weekend. Look at the size of those leaves!

Time management and chickens

A hen exits the coop through the automatic door
A hen exits the coop through the automatic door

I spent a lot of time with the chickens today. More time than I expected. More time than is usual for a Saturday.

See, my usual school-day routine is to peek in on the birds before driving my daughter to the bus stop. When I get back, I fill feeders, check waterers and refill if needed. Usually I have a “treat” bucket of scraps from the house to disperse, maybe some dried crushed eggshells or sunflower seeds as well. I gather any eggs that are in the nest boxes. Check mineral supplements and refill. Then I hang out a bit and watch. You can learn a lot by hangin’ with the birds. I’m usually inside eating breakfast half an hour later.

Well, today is Saturday. I thought I’d allow myself to sleep in to the decadent hour of 7:45am. In my defence, I had had a fitful sleep, dreaming about making egg salad and waking to the realization that learning the ins and outs of blogging was definitely not coming along as easily as I had expected. I managed to drape a towel over my head to block the dawn and didn’t get to the birds until an hour later than usual. Continue reading “Time management and chickens”

Picture a cold frame

vegetable seedlings wiarton cold frame
Seedlings of lettuce, chives, bunching onions, cilantro, bok choi and kale in the cold frame

There is only so much room inside the house, under the lights for seed starting. As the heat loving tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers need more space, the cold tolerant vegetables get turfed out. They are living life on the edge out in the cold frame.

Running a cold frame takes hourly attention in this land of ever-changing weather. Sunny days are lovely, but tender seedlings quickly fry if the lid remains closed. Ask me how I know. Think solar oven. Other days bring their own dance of lid up, down or slightly cracked. Laying  a piece of frost cloth over the open frame to block wind or bugs adds another move to the dance.

Today is a lid down, no cracks kind of day. It’s cold enough for there to be snow in the air. Continue reading “Picture a cold frame”

Starting the garden one seed at a time

Seedlings of Red Zebra and Red Speckled Roman tomatoes
Seedlings of Red Zebra and Red Speckled Roman tomatoes started from seed in March.

For most gardeners on the Bruce Peninsula, the rule of thumb is to start planting over the Victoria Day weekend. With our local frost free date hovering around May 20th, it’s not a bad plan.

There are however, a number of veggies that thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring. With a little protection, these plants can provide fresh vegetables for the table by the time the holiday rolls around.

This year, I am trying a new planting system based on the crop planning dates in Jean-Martin Fortier’s book The Market Gardener. You gotta start somewhere, and Jean-Martin knows what he’s doing.

So rather than planting my entire “early garden” all at once, I am starting a few seeds each week to provide a continuous supply of produce. This approach should save us from the yearly greens glut when all of the lettuce gets ready at once and everyone is sick of salads. Repeat with the crop of your choice (bok choi, cabbage, broccoli.) I never seem to learn.

It’s really interesting to take this staggered approach to seeding. We started our tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and basil over March Break. A few days later, I seeded some lettuce, onions and cilantro.

pak choi seedlings
Shanghai green pak choi seedlings along with other brassicas for early spring eats.

Every week, I’ve started a few more veggies: beets, leeks, Swiss chard, more lettuce, spinach, bok choi, cucumbers and summer squash. Also some more lettuce. Should I look into this lettuce fixation?

All of this is a bit challenging when juggling space under the lights for everyone.  Tomatoes and tomatillos are being moved to larger pots so the same number of plants now take up twice as much valuable space under the lights. And this is all taking place in the back bedroom.

Soon a few lucky winners will take a trip out to the cold frame. But that’s another story.

A New Season

The view across the field towards home, March 2015
The view across the field towards home, March 2015. The start of a new season.

It’s been a lengthy frigid winter here on the Bruce Peninsula. Inside and out, we are all ready for the warmth and the green to return.

With the return of spring, we are entering a new season of production here on the homestead. I’ll be turning my hand to growing produce for market. New ventures and new relationships await.