Casual Fridays Part 2

The weekend is finally here! I’ve got a ton of stuff planned for the weekend and my sister is visiting as well, so I’m sure we’ll get up to lots of mischief (tame, of course). Not too much happening in the garden right now – we’re working on getting through the last of the kale by making lots of kale chips and also giving away as much as we can. Here are a few things that have caught my attention lately:

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1. Canning, Pickling, and Freezing with Irma Harding by Marilyn McCrae. I first saw this book on Food in Jars and immediately added it to my Amazon wish list.

2. Jolly Rancher Infused Vodka via A Beautiful Mess. My first reaction was “OMG gross” because I confused Jolly Ranchers for Starburst but then realized my mistake and changed my reaction to “OMG amazing”. I have a fantasy of throwing a teeny bopper birthday party (for myself) that is horse/cat themed and I think this candy-infused vodka would be perfect for my weird fantasy birthday party.

3. Pear Cranberry Jam via Food in Jars. I actually made this a couple of weekends ago and added in cinnamon and black pepper via a suggestion in the comments, but I also added a splash of vanilla to put my own take on it. I’m hoping that it will replace the canned cranberries I usually serve with turkey dinner (you know the kind, that slurps out of the can and then you present on a platter with the tin can mold still completely intact? So classy.).

4. Chocolate Pot de Cre’me via Sweet Paul looks unbelievably amazing. And easy to make! Plus I have tons of preserved sour cherries to go with it!

5. Fish Peppers via Garden Betty look so neat! I’ve added these to my seed purchase list for the next growing season (along with like 15 other hot pepper varieties). I love the story behind them as well – it really hits home how important seed saving is.

Have a wonderful weekend!

2014 Tomatoes Part Three

Looking back on the tomato season, I would say that this year was weird. It could have been better but it also could have been much worse. Several young tomato plants met a terrible demise early in the season due to savage squirrels and some tomatoes didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped (a few plants producing only one or two tomatoes!). An early morning wind storm in July knocked a few pots of tomatoes from my deck on to the ground, surprisingly not breaking the pots but doing some damage to the plants inside of them. Aside from that, the plants did not suffer from any blight or insect infestations. Then almost all of the tomatoes had to be harvested several weeks early and brought into the house to ripen due to a freak summer snowstorm. But some plants did perform quite well – Black Cherry, Green Zebra, Indigo Rose, and Tumbler. My overall tomato harvest was big enough to last a couple of months and I was also able to roast and freeze a lot of tomatoes for use over the winter. Even though I’ve been growing tomatoes for as long as I’ve been gardening, each year brings new surprises and I learn new things – no two growing seasons are ever the same, especially in Calgary (or insert your location). I’ve made lots of notes for next year and I’m constantly exploring new methods to try (next year I will be experimenting with the disgusting fish head method). On a positive note, I did discover quite a few new-to-me varieties that I will be absolutely growing again, so even though the season was weird, I think it was successful.

And now on to the last tomatoes of the season!

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Doesn’t that cat bowl make you squeal in delight?!

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Chocolate Cherry

This was my first year growing Chocolate Cherry and you may confuse it with Black Cherry that I featured in an earlier tomato post because they look quite similar except Chocolate Cherry is quite a bit smaller in size. The harvest was just okay – it really could have been better, especially for an indeterminate plant. I got maybe a small bowl full of tomatoes, but this may have been the result of me trying to jam as many plants into a small space as I could – I’m blaming me, not the plant. Regardless of the small harvest, this tomato is really tasty – very sweet with very little acidity. The flavor is very pleasant and the texture is ideal for me – I will absolutely plant these again.

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Blondkopfchen

Say that one three times. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what this plant was – I had to dig through my seeds to figure it out because the label got lost somewhere but once I figured it out I loudly said “Oh, of course!”. And I definitely won’t forget this one because although the tomatoes are teeny tiny, they taste amazing! They almost remind me of a currant tomato, size-wise. These little tomatoes are unlike any other yellow tomato I’ve had – they are very flavorful and have a really nice texture. They have a great balance between sweetness and acidity. These have also gone on my “must plant again” list. And I’m so pleased that I finally found a yellow tomato that I love.

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Riesentraube

I grew several small red tomatoes this year but only chose to feature Riesentraube because it was by far the worst. Riesentraube is larger than a cherry tomato and smaller than a paste tomato but the name actually translates to “giant bunch of grapes” in German. My harvest was not a “giant bunch” of grape-sized tomatoes, it was more like a “small bunch” of elephant grapes (if that’s a real thing), and the tomatoes themselves were nothing exciting. I was not a fan of the texture, they were not very sweet and fairly acidity which left me very disappointed. I juggled whether or not I wanted to include Riesentraube in my post but decided that maybe someone was considering it and I should warn that person to not bother.

That brings my 2014 tomato posts to an end. Read Part One here and Part Two here. Now to start planning for next year! I have my eye on another blue variety and several dwarf varieties and I’m always up for suggestions.

Chocolate Cherry tomatoes seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Blondkopfchen seeds from Urban Harvest (no longer available) but also sold at Seed Savers Exchange, Riesentraube from Urban Harvest (no longer available) but also sold at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

My Favorite Harvest & Storage Products

For about a minute, I get excited about autumn. I’m tired of watering the garden, I’m out of canning energy, and I just want to be inside my house, under a pile of blankets, surrounded by cats, binge watching some BBC period drama on Netflix while knitting. The novelty wears off pretty quickly, but that is another story.

But before I can settle in for the winter, I need to focus my energy on harvesting the last of the bounty and storing it for winter. Last week I felt like I was finished with preserving but then I got a burst of energy and decided to do some canning. I pickled a pile of peppers and preserved a pot of pear & cranberry jam with cinnamon and black pepper. I’m feeling exhausted again but maybe I’ll have another burst later this week and I can deal with the last of the fresh herbs as well as oven roast a metric tonne of tomatoes for freezing. And with that, I’ve put together a little round-up of my favorite products or things that I would love to have – to make the transition just a little easier.

 

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1. Opinel Garden Knife $17.00 – Mountain Equipment Co-op – I have this knife and I love it. Very sharp! And compact for easy keeping in your pocket or garden apron.

2. Orchard Rack $89.95 – Veseys – I don’t have this but I would love to have it for winter squash storage. I’ve already instructed my husband that when he perfects his carpentry skills, he will be building me something similar.

3. Garden Hod $75.00USD – Beekman 1802 – I also don’t have this, I just use a plastic ice cream bucket, but isn’t this so much prettier?

4. Cardboard Boxes – I use shallow cardboard boxes for storing my unripe tomatoes in the basement (keep any lids open or off). Various ripening methods work for other people, but this seems to work the best for me.

5. Herb Drying Rack $28.50 – Williams Sonoma – This has been on my covet list for like 4 years. I need to just buy it.

6. Le Parfait Jars $9.95-$18.95 – Crate & Barrel – I am obsessed with pretty storage jars so I already have a bunch of these in my pantry. They are perfect for storing your dried herbs.

7. Seed Envelopes $10.23 – Kaufmann Merchantile – You could just use regular kraft envelopes but why would you when these exist? I’m a sucker for beautiful typography.

If you live in Canada, have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! Do you have any big projects for the extended weekend?

Note: All of my product posts are my personal recommendations – I am not paid for these posts or associated with the products in any way besides personally loving or coveting them!

 

Anaheim NuMex Joe E. Parker “Hot” Pepper

You may have noticed that the title contains the word hot which has quotations surrounding it: “hot”. That’s because although this pepper is classified as a hot pepper, I do not believe it is such (it is rated 800-1000 on the scoville scale). I think I need to come up with a new pepper classification to categorize peppers that are in between sweet and hot peppers. I guess that when I first started eating and growing peppers I was a bit naive because I didn’t realize that the pepper spectrum is so vast. I do enjoy the more mild hot peppers quite a bit, but I sometimes find myself disappointed when I taste them because I’m expecting to burn my face off. From now on I am going to ensure that my expectations are clear when choosing peppers to grow – I need a good variety of sweet, mild hot and face-burning hot peppers. But I can’t be too hard on myself – this is my first year of successfully growing hot peppers from seed!

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For some reason I ended up with three plants of this variety in my greenhouse – I can’t remember why (goldfish brain). All of the plants were fairly compact – about a foot or so tall and each plant produced 2-3 peppers. Not an amazing amount, but enough to flavor a few small dishes (fresh salsa & thrown in with some banana peppers I was canning to add more colors). The peppers themselves were a good size – a couple of inches wide and about 6 inches long (except for a few runts). I know I complained above about feeling disappointment towards the lack of heat in these, but the taste is really good for a mild pepper – slightly sweet but with a peppery taste without the heat (if that makes sense). I think that if I had a better yield of these I would have stuffed them and roasted them because that would have really brought out the flavor.

I have one more hot pepper left for this year and that is the Habanero which are yet to ripen in my greenhouse (these ones have been so slow!), but I’m confident that I will not be disappointed with these ones.

Anaheim NuMex Joe E. Parker pepper seeds from Botanical Interests.

 

 

The Garden October 2014

I keep hearing myself and others say that they can’t believe it’s October already. September was a really long month, but it flew by in a flash. Work was extremely busy so I was putting in long days and I’ve been trying to keep up with the garden, writing blog posts, ensuring the house is in a livable condition and all of the other life things. I love to cook but I found myself just throwing together easy and quick stand-bys all month. Oh and I also decided somewhere along the line that I could knit a sweater as well as a few holiday gifts. Idiot.

I don’t want the season to end, but I will say that sometimes caring for the garden when the season is coming to a close after a long and stressful day at work can be a bit of a burden. Do I really want to water my garden after working an 11 hour day? Not really. But on the other hand, after I’m outside for even a minute, I can see myself becoming calm and relaxed. I once read an interview with Scott Weiland (former Stone Temple Pilots singer – I just totally dated myself) who talked about how gardening and knitting helped him overcome drug addiction. So needless to say, gardening and knitting are unbelievably therapeutic and both myself and Scott Weiland are living proof.

October is a weird month for me – most of the vegetables have been harvested and preserved and many of the perennials are expiring. This time of year always puts me into a state of mourning – mourning the loss of this year’s garden that I worked so hard on and preparing for the dark and cold season ahead. It sounds so depressing – and it is, to an extent. But I also feel relief because I can just let go, but also feel excitement towards planning for the next season – I believe this is what keeps us gardeners going during those dreadful months.

So how about enough of the depressing talk and instead you look at some photos of the garden right now.

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Most of the raised beds and pots are cleared but a few things remain – I’ve left the carrots in for now because they don’t mind frost, same with the kale and other brassicas (better picture of those below). You may or may not notice that my neighbor’s tree has bent over into my yard quite a bit – this is a result of the heavy snowfall we had a few weeks ago (heavy snow + full leaves + my hops using the tree as a trellis = very heavy branches). It may or may not straighten itself out over time but I don’t mind too much because it isn’t a safety hazard and I tend to refrain from complaining about my neighbors when it comes to property lines because I know that a few of my plants cross the lines quite frequently (I’m looking at you hops!). I try my best to prevent this and not be a terrible neighbor – I would never intentionally plant something that I knew would spread to my neighbor’s yard and I always make a point to talk to my neighbors about my trespassing plants. Luckily my gardening neighbor always has the same response “Oh, I don’t care!”, but I guess I have a fear of angering people.

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The garlic was planted last weekend! I went with old faithful Russian Red again. I planted it in the ground between two raised beds where I planted lettuces this year. When I did some re-arranging of raised beds a couple of years ago, I intentionally left a wider walking path between the beds so that I could have some room to plant in ground – this has turned out to be the perfect solution for perennial herbs and garlic.

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I’m so glad I got too lazy to rip out the brassica bed after the cabbage looper mass murder. I haven’t seen another caterpillar since and the plants have come back fairly strong, growing new healthy leaves with two of the plants producing heads. I know I said that I hadn’t had any success with broccoli and cauliflower in the past and that this was a failed experiment and I wouldn’t try again, but I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong. Sometimes there is light at the end of the tunnel full of caterpillar carcasses.

I have a feeling that the next time you see the full garden, it will be covered in a blanket of white. Sigh. What does your garden look like right now? Are you still harvesting?

One more thing: I know a lot of people follow blogs on Facebook, so I recently created a page for my blog where I will post status updates, links to new blog posts, as well as anything else I feel like subjecting my followers to, so please like Carrots & Raspberries on Facebook!