Category: gardening

5 Steps to Warding off Backyard Bloodsuckers

Vampires are so last year; zombies are king now, consequently I might be a year behind in my attempt to ward off the bloodsuckers of west Toronto.  I am an Ontario garlic fiend; I buy a heap of it in the late summer and fall to stockpile for the winter.  Ontario garlic is expensive, from $1.50 – 2.50 per bulb, so I thought – maybe it’s time to grow my own. Garlic is best planted in the fall, before the first frost. 

The 5 Steps to Planting Garlic, and thus, 
warding off backyard bloodsuckers.

Step One
Purchase fresh, organic, hardneck garlic from a friendly farmer. Ask for planting advice and gush about your love of local garlic. 

Step Two

Inhale the intoxicating aroma as you pull the cloves carefully from the bulbs, leaving skins on. Take artsy photos of your precious garlic. Choose the fattest cloves for planting.

Step Three
Using your trusty trowel, dig 2-inch deep holes in a sunny area of your garden, try to space the holes five inches apart. I measured, but no need to be so neurotic. 

Step Four
Place your gorgeous garlic cloves pointy side up and cover with soil. Water generously and cover with a mulchy layer of dry fallen leaves. 

Step Five
Wait until spring when the precursor to garlic, a magical green scape will surface. Until then, sleep well knowing that vampires (but not zombies) will be kept at bay for another season.

Pickled Garlic Scapes

bumper crop & punk rock bakeries

I have only one zucchini plant in my backyard. One is enough. Mammoth zucchini appear overnight, forcing me to use them at a pace that I would never voluntarily eat zucchini at. I made a delicious zucchini relish earlier in the Summer, we have been grilling it and eating it ribboned in salads.

This past week, inspired by an amazing bakery I visited in Chicago, I made zucchini cupcakes. The bakery, Bleeding Heart Bakery, was everything a bakery should be, fun, quirky, delicious and hot-pink!

zucchini explosion.
At the bakery I had a wonderful peach cupcake topped with tiny corn kernels. Very tasty. 
I loved the wire whisk light fixtures, tin roof and hot pink walls. 

I think my favourite zucchini application so far is the spiced zucchini cupcake. Any cupcake iced with cream cheese, candied walnuts and crystallized zucchini is okay by me.
I thought the cupcakes needed some colour on top, so I candied finely julienned zucchini skin. 
Zucchini Spice Cupcakes with Candied Walnut & Zucchini  

Doctor, Doctor, we have a case of bottom end rot.

Bottom/Blossom end rot. Powdery mildew. Early summer blight. Late summer blight. Bacterial speck. 

These diseases strike terror straight into my tomato growing soul. Almost all of my tomato plants have a case of powdery mildew. The days have been so humid and wet, it has been almost impossible to keep my tomato plants well ventilated and dry. When I saw the tell-tale white powdery specks on the leaves I knew I needed to break out the milk. Yes, the milk. Apparently, a solution of 1 part milk to 9 parts water will help in the fight against powdery mildew. Why? Scientists are not sure (says the internet). My friend, an actual Doctor of Plant Genetics (fancy!) had never heard of this before, but thought it would have something to do with pH levels. She also suggested that I grow roses in my tomato gardens next year as an indicator species. The roses will get the powdery mildew first and I will be able to safeguard my tomato plants before they too get sick. Great suggestion, Doctor, great suggestion. In vineyards, at the end of each row you will see a rosebush for this very same reason. 

Plants are amazing. 

Small bit of powdery mildew. I trimmed the plants before I could get a photo of really bad mildew. 

Now, the case of bottom end rot. What can I do? This disease is caused by a deficiency of calcium in the soil when the plant was developing. I have been saving my eggshells all summer to add to the soil of my plants and have fortified the soil with a calcium rich green fertilizer. I think I might have to just give up, let those bottoms rot and hope for the best. 

Blossom End Rot. Sigh.
Feuerwerk, Lemon Boy & Eva’s Purple Ball Tomatoes
Greens, greens, greens.
Very trimmed tomato plants.
Delicious cherry tomatoes.
Tastiest tomato of the garden to date: tiny little coyote yellow tomatoes from matchbox garden and seed co.
Broccoli gone to seed, all the pretty yellow flowers.
Mixed spicy greens.
Mixed italian greens.

La Primavera!

I am relishing the sunny (and even rainy) days of spring. This is the first spring I have had a real backyard since I was a kid. Eager plans were formed quickly in the early days of spring for an abundant garden full of heirloom and rare varietals. I poured over seed catelogues from Urban Harvest and Matchbox Garden & Seed Co. With varietal names like Cosmonaut Volkov Tomato, Mountain Princess, Mrs. Bot’s Italian Giant, Perfection Fennel, how could I not be excited? But, as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I bought dozens of lovely seed packages with exotic names and did not start my seeds indoors early enough to use most of them this year. Alas, next year, next year.

Although my garden is not an heirloom vegetable utopia, I am pleased as punch (yes, as punch) with what is going on in my backyard. I sowed some of my fancy seeds and bought seedlings from various non-fancy locations and a few designer tomato plants from local farmers markets. One thing I have learned about myself in this process is that I am OBSESSED with gardening and the miracle of plant life. Planting lemon cucumber or romano red flamed bush bean seeds and watching them erupt from the ground is incredible. Oh, nature. You amaze me.

You don’t win friends with salad.

I think in a post apocalyptic world only cockroaches and chives will survive. The chives in our yard were alive until December and have since rose from the ashes of a short winter and emerged exuberant and humungous. I have ripped massive handfuls out and they still take over my garden. I adore them in all their wildness. They add a certain charm to my garden, with their whimsical purple chive blossoms. The problem is, how can I keep up? I could eat them at every meal and still not even come close to using them all. I have made chive salad dressings at least once a week and learned I could eat the blossoms, which have become a flashy addition to our spring greens. The blossoms are the best part, I have come to realize. They are oniony and sweeter than the actual chive. Try it. You’ll like it.

The weather this weekend was really beautiful so I was inspired to make Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc recipe for Buttermilk Fried Chicken and a spring inspired salad of cabbage slaw, asparagus, fingerling potatoes, radish, fried capers and chive blossoms. We ate outside and drank Cherry Ale from Trafalgar Brewing Co.