Tuesday, December 31, 2013

No Resolutions, Just Thanks

I'm not a New Years resolution kind of gal.  I'm more of a take action person.  My practical nature demands that if I want something to change, I change it.  Right here, right now.  Forget this resolving to do something at some specified date in the future.  So there won't be any resolutions posted here this year.

Instead I'm feeling rather content and happy these days.  Thankful that I made it through yet another year, relatively unscathed.  I successfully passed two law courses.  We got the house mostly painted.  We are both employed.  We like where we live.

This Christmas season brought all sorts of good things.  Good food, a long rest, a new winter coat to keep me warm.


There is snow piled several feet deep right outside the doorstep, and icicles hanging from the roof but the electricity and heat has held.  Many people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were without electricity and warmth this holiday.  Some spending a week or more without.  I am very grateful that here on the island we were fortunate enough to keep the lights on and get a glimpse of this.

The Christmas lights in Rustico are said to be some of the best on the island.  This was my first year taking it in.  I was quite impressed.

So goodbye 2013 and welcome 2014.  I have my fingers crossed this year will be just as good as the last.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!

We've had snow.   


and rain.

and ice.

I've quit counting how much.

I'm just glad we have electricity.

So we can enjoy the pretty Christmas lights and eat hot turkey.

Merry Christmas to everyone wherever you are.  We wish you peace, joy, a cozy blanket and a warm fire.  Best wishes, Marguerite

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Missing in Action

Hello folks, it has been a long dry spell in blogland but I swear I haven't forgotten about you.  This post is for all of you who have emailed, called and generally wondered what the heck is up with me.  I am still in school and that is continuing to eat up my extra time.  I finished my second course about a week ago and will start a third course beginning in January.  So far so good.

Unfortunately the minute I was finished with school this happened.

The flower garden under the first snow of the season
Our first storm of the season brought 110km an hour winds and a load of snow.  Now a week later we are sitting through yet another storm.  This has the looks of a bad winter ahead.

Snow days mean we must find new ways to entertain ourselves indoors.  I've decided to start training Gino for the circus.  I've managed to get him to stand up on his back legs.

Now I just need him to learn to twirl.  Funnyface is not as cooperative.

He would much rather take a nap in my bed.  Clearly I have my work cut out for me. 

Other fun activities have included attending PEI's first Seedy Saturday.  Seeds of Community is a new group on PEI that is creating a grassroots network that promotes seed sovereignty.  They held their first Seedy Saturday on December 7 and I was delighted to attend.  First some sorting needed to be done though.

All this came out of my fridge
My fridge is overflowing with various packets of seeds so I took some time to do some sorting.  I put aside extras and seeds I was no longer interested in for trading, and sussed out what I would like to add to my collection.  Then off I went.  The event was a big success and I met some wonderful people and took home some fascinating new seeds.  Many more tomatoes are now in my collection, as well as a couple new beans among other things.

Which reminds me, about those tomatoes.  I know I promised you a tomato post and I do intend to write one.  However, we've come up against a roadblock.  As I was sitting down to write this particular post my old macbook ground to a halt.  I tried to reboot but alas, it seems it has bit the proverbial biscuit.  The problem is that all my garden photos from this year are on that computer, including all my tomato pictures. We should be able to retrieve the photos off the hard drive but at this point we have no new computer to move them to.  A new mac was definitely not in the budget so it may take some time before we get this worked out.  So hang in there please.  I have plenty to say about our heirloom tomatoes but seeing a  photo of them - well, a picture is worth a thousand words right?

What I do have pictures of is pumpkins.

Look what I found!!
While out on a weekend walk we discovered a treasure trove of abandoned pumpkins in the woods.  Wee baby ones like the one I'm carrying in the photo, and monster big ones, as well as a variety of colours.  After Halloween they were dumped like a basket full of kittens into the woods, left to fend for themselves.  Don't you people know you can eat those things?

You might recall I grew pumpkins this year.  Very pretty but they taste good too.

Remember these beauties?
This was my first year growing Long Island Cheese Pumpkins so I wasn't sure how they would measure up in the kitchen.  My first experiment was to carve them for Halloween.  I wouldn't try that again.  As pretty as they are, the walls are quite thick and ripply making them an absolute nuisance to carve.  So we chopped them up and cooked them down.  That worked wonderfully.  Slowly cooked down on a stovetop the pumpkin turned into a very thick paste which worked well in breads and cookies.  Then a co-worker suggested we try stuffing them.  What?!?

Did I mention it slices beautifully too?
I have never heard of stuffed pumpkin before but I am glad I know about it now.  The stuffing is a combination of ground beef, onions, mashed potatoes, cinnamon and all spice.  Very easy to make, very filling and very tasty.  I still have a couple pumpkins on standby so my next venture will be a curried pumpkin soup. 

Hoping this post finds you all happy and healthy, and looking forward to a wonderful holiday.  I'll be coming round and visiting your blogs over the next couple weeks and with any luck we'll get a new computer up and running so I can share more garden photos with you soon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Vegetable Garden Review 2013

The weather's good and cold and all the plants have withered.

Must mean it's time to do my yearly review of the veggie plot.

Let's start with the bad things and end on a high note, shall we?

The biggest tragedy by far this year was the perennial plants.

My strawberries had to be dug up
Asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries were all a bust.   A complete and total bust.  I did not collect one single asparagus spear this year.  That's because sheep sorrel took over.  This invasive plant has to be removed out of the veggie garden on an almost daily basis.  There's no escaping it as it's everywhere on our property and it spreads like wildfire.  The majority of the annual vegetable beds get dug out at least once or twice a year which helps combat the problem but I can't do this with perennials.  I simply don't have the time to weed them consistently and the result is all these plants have been choked out.  You can see in the above photo, on the left there's more weeds than strawberries.  I had to completely dig out the entire bed and start over.

I am working on a plan though.  I have begun, in a very small way, to eradicate the grass and weeds in the paths of the veggie garden.

I started laying down layers of newspaper and cardboard in the spring.  (I knew those flyers were good for something!)  I followed that with a 3 inch thick layer of sawdust.  Then straw.  The hope is that I end up killing the weeds underneath so they stop sneaking into the veggie beds.  The small sections I was able to complete did well so I hope to continue with this next year.

The next tragedy feels minor in comparison.  I discovered that spinach seed doesn't last very long.  3 years in fact.  I should have known that, but now I won't forget.  I planted my spinach and waited, and waited, and waited. Thank goodness I was paying attention and got myself to a store to buy fresh seed. Unfortunately the weather was getting a bit warm by that point and I didn't have great germination.  So a less than stellar crop of spinach but now I know better.

Another problem with germination was beans.  I was in a hurry and just couldn't wait for the weather to warm up.  So into the ground they went and it rained and rained.  My poor beans rotted.  

Dragon's Tongue on the left and Purple Peacock on the right
I did manage to get a couple plants to come up but it was a pretty lean year for beans.

Thankfully, the tragedies aren't life or death.  Every year has surprises, and some of them are good.  What we lacked in beans we more than made up for in peas.

I had very good germination rates this year, followed by tons of blooms and bees, which resulted in LOADS of peas.  I think I spent most of my summer picking peas.  Every second day starting in June straight through August I picked peas.  August?  yes, August.  The plants had almost stopped producing in July but then we had a spell of rain.  And the vines grew, and bloomed some more, and then there I was in August still picking peas.  Good thing I like peas.  They're an awful lot of work.

Another great surprise was onions.

You know, the fact that I was actually able to grow some.  For 3 years I have been trying to grow onions with no luck.  They rotted, they withered, they refused to grow larger than a marble.  Through a combination of starting seed early, improving my soil, and not burying the plants too deeply I was finally able to produce some proper onions.  Every time I visited the garden this year I did a happy dance around the onions.  I grew those!!

As noted in my previous post I finally managed to grow pumpkins this year too.

My pumpkin patch
Whatever issues I was having last year are gone.  Good thing we have some space.  There's a manure pile under those vines somewhere.  Our weedy meadow was no match for these plants.

Aren't they the most beautiful pumpkins you've every seen?!  BIG big thanks to Brenda @ Gardeningbren for gifting me with the seed for these Long Island Cheese pumpkins.  The whole neighbourhood is enjoying the proceeds of this crop.

That's a wrap for 2013.  This was our fourth year gardening here on the Corner and it was the best yet. For those of you dying to know what happened to the tomatoes.... you'll have to wait.  I grew approximately 25 plants this year so they get their own post.

just another beautiful day in the garden
till then....

Friday, October 18, 2013

Triumphs and Tragedies - Summer/Fall 2013 Edition

I have neglected you and I sincerely apologize.  I have a list of excuses but they are irrelevant.

We need to catch up.  It's been a long summer and fall is half over.

The beautiful colours of fall have arrived
So much has happened since we last spoke.  There have been some triumphs.  We got a new couch!

Only took 4 years living in this house but we have a comfortable, brand new, lovely couch.  It doesn't sag.  You can't feel the springs.  It doesn't sit mere inches from the floor.  We are very happy. (did I mention I've never owned a new couch before!  I really am excited)

The veggie garden has been spitting out enough zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes for a family of 12.  Our large freezer is full.  Completely full.

Anyone want some pumpkins?  seriously.. get in touch
There's tomato soup, fresh frozen tomatoes, pureed pumpkin, pesto, spinach, peas.  All organic, all grown with our own two hands.

Some trees came down ... on purpose.  They've been standing dead for some time and were in unfortunate locations.  Like next to the power pole.  We had put off getting it dealt with.

We left the base standing for the bugs and birds
I feel much better now that's out of the way.  I can quit worrying about our tree taking out the neighbours house and think about all that extra firewood keeping us warm.

It's not all roses though.  There is always the flip side.

We have been scraping, sanding and painting.  (hahaha, and by WE, I mean Jody)

scraped and ready to paint
It has been a load of work.  Sore knees, sore backs, and loads of arguing.  Yup, life here ain't always pretty.  When you have two very stubborn people with very strong vision things can get a little out of hand.  I like colour.  A LOT of colour.  Jody wants subtlety.  There is no middle ground and the weather has turned cold.  Too cold to finish the job.

putting on the primer
So for now the house sits in limbo.  I foresee this argument continuing right through to spring.

and speaking of roses ....

Our rose hedge is looking a bit trampled these days.  Looking at it lengthwise, above, the middle seems to be missing.  One foggy cold morning we found a car in our front yard.  Upside down.  Everyone is intact which is good.  We'll be a bit sparse on blooms though come next June.

and of course I visited the compost again.  We all know by now what that means right?  (think unwanted animals, or click on this link for a refresher).  The compost has become my nemesis this year.  I had taken a Friday off work to try and deal with some fall chores before the really cold weather sets in.  Cleaning up excess compost was on my to do list so away I went with my pitchfork.

I'm starting to get a little neurotic about going near the compost these days
We can now add wasps to the array of animals taking up residence in the compost pile.  That ended the day quite quickly.  Not to mention painfully.  I think I should just walk away from composting this year.  It's obviously just not happening for me right now.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Harvest Time

Jody complained the other day that our kitchen really needs to be renovated.  There's no space in there he says, I can't find a counter to work on, something needs to be done....

Now I don't totally disagree.  A kitchen renovation has been in the works since we bought this place. Newer and more spacious cupboards, an extra sink, dishwasher - yes to all the above.  But the thing is, our current problem has nothing to do with the kitchen as it stands.  My dear husband seems to have overlooked the fact that the real issue is that every single inch of counter space has been overtaken by produce.

A sample of the summer produce this year
From where I'm sitting now I can see on the kitchen island a pumpkin, beans, several sweet and hot peppers, several plastic containers full of wee cherry tomatoes, as well as a container of roasted tomatoes.  On the kitchen counter there is a salad spinner full of parsley, several cucumbers, and two extra large bowls of tomatoes in various stages of ripeness.  The kitchen window sill is serving as stage one of ripening for all the green tomatoes.  On the stove there is a stockpot full of tomato soup.  Even the bathroom has been overtaken - the sink is currently stuffed full of basil resting in cold water.  And let us not forget the food that is actually in the fridge.

What the heck are we going to do with this all this bounty?  It's a question that I struggle with each year.  How to preserve, process and cook the unending supply of food that the garden throws at me on a daily basis.  I'm sure there's a few other gardeners out there struggling with this issue right now so I thought I'd share a few ideas.

Step one - get yourself a massive stockpot.

Step two - make copious amounts of soup.  I like tomato soup as it uses large quantities of tomatoes but another favourite is a Spicy Chicken soup which uses both tomatoes and fresh made salsa (the salsa gets rid of uses up tomatoes, carrots, peppers, garlic, cilantro and onions. bonus).  Carrot soup, and pumpkin soup are staples as well.

A girl can only make so much soup so my second line of defense is a vacuum sealer.  Chop up fresh tomatoes, cook down your pumpkin, blanch your spinach and seal it all in the vacuum bags.  Easy as pie.  Actually easier than pie really.  I haven't even started baking pies yet.

As you might be noticing, kitchen tools feature heavily at this time of year.  We just invested in this fancy Cuisinart blender to help get us through the preserving season. 

Loving this for fresh made salsa and pesto.  We eat the salsa on the spot but the pesto freezes really well for use in the winter.  If pesto feels too complicated just zip through some basil and olive oil.  Once processed spoon it into an ice cube tray and freeze.  These little basil cubes are perfect for throwing into a pasta sauce later on.

Not everything needs to involve expensive tools though.  A quick and easy way to preserve parsley is simply stuffing it in a ziploc bag and freezing it.

Reach in the freezer and break off a piece as you need it.  (Thanks to Brenda for this tip!)

Drying is another simple and effective way to preserve food.  Garlic, onions and herbs all benefit from this.  I grew onions for the first time ever this year.  Proper onions.  Not marble sized rocks that smell like onions.

These babies are big, and tasty.  But they need to dry in order to store for the winter.  So I've hung them from the rafters in the garage to air out for a couple weeks.

After that all hard work the best thing to do is make cake.  Who doesn't like cake?  Chocolate zucchini cake and carrot cake go over pretty well this time of year.

and finally, my last resort.  Give it away.  Inevitably I get overwhelmed and co-workers like this time of year because they get a never ending supply of cucumbers, zucchini, basil, beans, and tomatoes. 

Recently I discovered something new though, the PEI Food Exchange.  This group is finding ways of distributing excess produce from farms and gardeners.  Whether it's a trade or giving it away to people in need they can use your garden excess.  There's never a reason for food to go to waste and this is a perfect way to make sure it gets to those who want it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Garden Tour Finale

My apologies for taking so darn long to get these photos posted.  August slipped right past without me even noticing.  Let's take a look at those last two gardens shall we?

A group of volunteers and garden owners did a pre-tour a couple nights before the big day.  We scurried as fast as we could but by the time we got to the last garden we were losing the light.  I apologize for the slightly fuzzy photos of this garden.  The place was magnificent but my camera wanted more sun.  We parked up on the road and took a long walk down the drive.

An impressive start.

I don't think anyone was disapointed when we finally got down to the main house and gardens.

This garden was nothing short of spectacular.

Several acres located right at the seashore and perfectly tended.  Exploding with trees, shrubs and plants of all shapes and sizes.

Photo by Gina Beeley
I wish I had written down some of the names of the plants as this garden had an amazing collection of trees that you don't often see.  The owner is a bit of a collector.

This beautiful gate led into a charming flower garden loaded with annual flowers and lots of shade loving perennials.

Everything, and I mean every square inch of this place, was perfectly tended.

I have never seen such an exquisite vegetable garden.  Most impressive of all is that this garden is lovingly tended by just two people.  Every bit of lawn mowing, weeding and mulching is cared by a pair of gardeners who obviously LOVE what they do.

My only complaint - MORE TIME!!  I could have easily spent a whole afternoon checking out each and every tree.  I saw a Dawn Redwood, some sort of Japanese Pine and what I'm pretty sure was a Stewartia but I didn't have near enough time to check out each individual tree that caught my eye.  Next year perhaps? 

The final stop on the big tour was the tea party.

Photo by Gina Beeley
Yes, a real tea party.  Fine china and everything.

Live music.

Photo by Gina Beeley
 Who doesn't want to be serenaded in a beautiful garden while sipping tea and eating cookies?

Wouldn't you like to take a seat?

Not to mention the view

This garden sits on a hill overlooking our beloved Canoe Cove.  An amazing way to wrap up a fantastic tour.  

I'm so glad to say I got to be a part of this tour.  I was really impressed with how the gardeners went out of their way to make everything perfect for visitors.  No detail went undone.  The gardens were beautiful, porches were decorated, there were containers of flowers everywhere.  It was such an impressive display and I think everyone enjoyed it.  The best news of all is that we managed to raise over $3,000 for Hospice PEI

Gardeners and volunteers - Photo by Gina Beeley